World looks to 'better future' for Libya at London meeting
More than 35 countries will attend a conference in London on Tuesday to discuss "a better future for the people of Libya" after Western air power helped rebel fighters make dramatic advances.
It will be the first meeting of the "contact group", comprised of countries led by France, Britain and the United States which are carrying out military attacks on pro-regime forces, as well as countries that support the action.
As rebels sweep westwards and close in on Moamer Kadhafi's home town of Sirte under cover of Western bombing, the international community is looking to what happens in a post-Kadhafi world, Western diplomats said.
NATO finally agreed Sunday to take over full command of military operations to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya from a US-led coalition, clarifying an issue which has dogged international thinking.
While France, Britain and the United States have driven forward the military action on Libya, they have been determined to ensure Arab nations are seen to be supporting their efforts.
The Arab League has been invited to London and the foreign ministers of Jordan and Qatar will attend alongside Western representatives including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Alain Juppe of France and Britain's William Hague.
The core of the meeting will be made up of countries which have taken the initiative to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, aimed at protecting Libyan civilians from attack from Kadhafi's forces.
"But we hope there will also be friends of the coalition, and hopefully the National Transitional Council," said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, referring to the main rebel grouping.
France is the only Western country to have officially recognised the rebels. Qatar followed suit on Monday.
The British government however was unable to confirm whether any representatives of the Libyan opposition would be present in London.
Britain says the meeting will be attended by countries "that have demonstrated a commitment to a better future for the people of Libya".
It will send an "unequivocal message" that the international community will continue to implement the UN resolution, the Foreign Office said.
"An immediate ceasefire, enforcement of the arms embargo and the no-fly zone and protection of civilians remains crucial," it said in a statement, "but we also need to look to the future".
Italy, Libya's former colonial masters, appeared to have taken the British hosts by surprise when Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he would present a a plan to offer Kadhafi exile.
"After the whole of Europe and the United Nations have said that the colonel (Kadhafi) is no longer an acceptable interlocutor, we cannot envisage a solution in which he would stay in power," Frattini told Italian newspaper La Repubblica at the weekend.
"Clearly exile for Kadhafi would be different... Even in his regime there are people working from the inside for this solution," he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman has maintained that Kadhafi and other figures in the regime should face a war crimes court, which would appear to rule out offering him a safe haven.
"It's not just the prime minister's view, it's the view of the international community as set out in Security Council resolution 1970," the spokesman said.
That resolution was passed by the UN in February in response to the Kadhafi regime's crackdown on protesters.
Also closely watched on Tuesday will be the role of regional power Turkey, which last week finally backed the no-fly zone and pledged warships to enforce an arms embargo off Libya's coast, but has expressed anger at the air strikes.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told British newspaper The Guardian his country would be willing to act as mediator between Kadhafi and the rebels if asked.
In a move which should facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid, Erdogan told reporters Monday that Turkey will take over the running of the airport in Libya's rebel bastion of Benghazi.
© 2011 AFP