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, insisting that western military action was having an effect in protecting civilians from Moamer Kadhafi's troops.

Thirty-seven 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 "continuing to suffer murderous attacks from regime".

"Kadhafi is using snipers to shoot them (the people of Misrata) down and let them bleed to death in the street," Cameron said as he opened the conference.

"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," he added.

Cameron said that the international coalition would continue the action needed to implement United Nations Security Council resolutions "as long as is necessary" to protect the population from attacks by Kadhafi's forces.

The coalition had so far "saved the city of Benghazi. It averted a massacre. And it has given freedom a chance in Libya," said Cameron.

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.

She said the international community should not impose its will on the Libyan people but should "stand with them as they determine their own destiny."

Ten days of Western air strikes 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.

Britain and France called the conference to plot a post-Kadhafi political landscape, as well as to iron out differences over the military mission.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon volunteered to coordinate international efforts to help Libya.

"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 and Spain have refused to rule out the possibility of an exile deal, amid reports it could be discussed at the meeting.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Kadhafi should still face a war crimes trial but added: "We're not in control, of course, of where he might go. I'm not going to choose Colonel Kadhafi's retirement home."

Libyan opposition envoy Mahmud Jibril was also in London on Tuesday and met with Clinton, Hague and the foreign ministers of France and Germany, although the group was not formally invited to the talks.

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

"We are asking all governments to start thinking about a few things, about how we are going to make it," said Mahmoud Shammam, head of media relations for the councill.

Asked whether Kadhafi should go into exile, Guma El-Gamaty, UK Coordinator for the council, said it wanted to see him held "accountable for his crimes (with) a fair trial in Libya."

The opposition said it was hoping for more international recognition, with only France and Qatar having done so.

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

Outside the meeting several dozen Libyan nationals protested against the military action, waving the green flag of the Kadhafi regime and chanting "hands off Libya". There was a separate protest by an anti-war group.

NATO 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 chief of the African Union, Jean Ping, did not attend, despite being earlier announced among the participants.

© 2011 AFP

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