World powers meet on Libya's future

29th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

International powers met in London on Tuesday to map out a future for Libya, vowing to continue military action until leader Moamer Kadhafi stops his "murderous attacks" on civilians.

More than 35 countries, including seven Arab states plus the heads of the United Nations and NATO, gathered as Kadhafi urged Western nations to end their UN-backed offensive against his country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that although the military action was having an effect in protecting civilians, the western city of Misrata was still under attack from the Libyan leader's forces.

"I propose that today's conference should agree to set up a contact group, which will put political effort on a sustained basis into supporting the Libyan people," Cameron said as he opened the conference.

"As I speak the people of Misrata are continuing to suffer murderous attacks from the regime," he added.

"I have had reports this morning that the city is under attack from both land and sea. Kadhafi is using snipers to shoot them (the people of Misrata) down and let them bleed to death in the street."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said meanwhile that the allied strikes on Libya would go on until Kadhafi meets the terms of a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire and authorising a no-fly zone to protect civilians.

Ten days of Western air strikes on Kadhafi's forces have allowed rebels to push back westwards, although they were halted near the key city of Sirte on Tuesday and Kadhafi's forces swept through Misrata.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said he would lead efforts to coordinate the international effort to map out Libya's future.

"The transition to a democratic government and society will take time and the support of us all. The United Nations is ready and willing to help the people of Libya in this transition," he said.

Britain had invited the main group representing the Libyan opposition to London but not to the talks themselves, underlining the diplomatic difficulties of planning for a post-Kadhafi era.

Libya's opposition Transitional National Council (TNC) issue a statement Tuesday vowing to work for free and fair elections in a "modern, free and united state".

Ahead of the summit, Clinton met Mahmud Jibril, who handles foreign affairs for the TNC, a senior US administration official said.

In a sign of growing ties a US envoy will travel to the opposition stronghold of Benghazi "sometime soon" to establish a "systematic channel" with groups seeking to oust Kadhafi, a US official said.

France is the only Western country to have recognised the rebels officially. Qatar followed suit on Monday.

Britain and Spain have refused to rule out the possibility of offering Kadhafi a safe corridor out of the country, amid reports that a possible exile plan could be discussed at the meeting.

"People who have committed crimes, if the prosecutor has the information on them, should be before the International Criminal Court (ICC)," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is chairing the meeting.

"But of course where he goes, if he goes, is up to him and the people of Libya to determine and we will not necessarily be in control of that."

In a letter addressed to the London meeting, Kadhafi said the offensive was "barbaric and unjust".

The NATO military alliance finally agreed Sunday to take over full command of military operations in Libya from a US-led coalition but the handover has been put back by 24 hours until Thursday.

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.

Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco were all represented in London.

But the Arab League was only represented at ambassador level and the African Union did not attend, despite being earlier announced among the participants.

© 2011 AFP

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