Libya: French foreign minister opposes ground troops

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French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday that he was "entirely hostile" to the idea of sending coalition ground troops into Libya, even special forces to guide air strikes.

Juppe made the comments at a lunch with reporters in Paris even as France's chief ally in the conflict, Britain, said it was deploying military trainers and after a senior French lawmaker called for commandos to be sent in.

"I remain, for my part, entirely hostile to the deployment of forces on the ground," Juppe said, insisting that Libya's rebel movement should remain in charge of fighting Moamer Kadhafi's loyalist forces on the battlefield.

Juppe brushed off a call from Axel Poniatowski, the influential chairman of the French parliament's foreign affairs committee, for allied special forces to be sent to Libya to guide coalition air strikes.

"It is for the Transitional National Council (TNC) and its troops to do this work," he said, at a briefing for diplomatic correspondents. "They can play this role without it being necessary to send in ground troops."

He also played down reports that French troops were already liaising with TNC commanders at their Benghazi headquarters, insisting that there was only a small French security team in the city to protect the French envoy.

"We have in Benghazi a high representative who is a diplomat, Antoine Sivan, with a small team that handles his protection. We have no troops," he said, when pressed on whether some troops had already been sent.

This statement contradicted a claim made earlier by Bernard-Henri Levy, a celebrity philosopher who has become an unofficial French envoy to the Libyan rebel camp, that a French officer was working with the insurgents.

Levy, who has spoken directly with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy about Libya and who has visited Benghazi for talks with the rebels, said French and British officers were in the insurgent "control room".

"Yes, of course, the Frenchman and the Briton are there," he told AFP.

The British defence ministry confirmed that, in addition to preparing to send around 20 officers as a "military liaison advisory team", it already has a "small team of defence advisers" working in the eastern city.

Privately, a senior French diplomatic source admitted to AFP that a French officer had indeed been assigned to the control room, but no official in Paris was willing to go on the record to confirm this.

Juppe also called on France's NATO allies to help British and French jets break the siege of the western Libyan city of Misrata by targeting Kadhafi's artillery arrayed around the beleaguered rebel bastion.

© 2011 AFP

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