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Powers want Kadhafi out with means unclear

Outgunned rebel forces with the backing of Western air and sea strikes supported by Gulf States have held onto eastern Libya, yet they have failed to make significant inroads in the west, towards Kadhafi’s power base in Tripoli.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, in charge of military operations in Libya for almost two weeks, is sticking to UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which authorises action to protect civilians in Libya but not regime-change.

Libya risks partition if Kadhafi survives, in the view of analysts

"Arabs don’t aspire to the breakup of an Arab country. It would be perceived as putting an end to their dream, and as the defeat of the very purpose of the revolt of the people," said Raghida Dergham, a columnist for Al-Hayat daily.

"The division of Libya is a red line, for the Arabs and for the Europeans," said Mustafa Alani, an analyst with the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre.

A ceasefire as proposed by the African Union, which has so far kept out of the international contact group which is to convene on Wednesday in Doha, would keep Kadhafi at the helm in Tripoli.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani are to co-chair the meeting, to be attended by the international community and the rebels’ interim Transitional National Council.

The forum is being held to discuss "the situation in Libya and support the people of Libya," according to the official agenda.

The group is made up of Western countries such as Britain, France and the United States as well as Arab members including Qatar, Jordan and Morocco, the United Nations, Arab League and NATO.

Libyan former foreign minister Mussa Kussa, who arrived in Britain unexpectedly at the end of March and quit, was on Tuesday headed for Qatar to hold talks ahead of the contact group meeting, the Foreign Office said.

"We understand that he is travelling today to Doha to meet with the Qatari government and a range of other Libyan representatives to offer insights in advance of the contact group meeting," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

William Burns, the number three at the US State Department, is to travel to Doha represent the United States, which together with France and Britain launched strikes against Kadhafi’s forces on March 19.

But Washington pulled its combat jets from the frontline last week, leaving the bombing to European and Canadian allies as it withdraws into a support role by providing surveillance and refuelling planes.

A divergence of priorities between the United States and its coalition allies could derail operations in Libya.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put "non-negotiable" demands including a ceasefire ahead of the departure of Kadhafi, who has been in power for nearly 42 years.

In contrast, France and Britain are insistent he must go.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague emphasised on Tuesday that "to have any viable, peaceful future for Libya, Colonel Kadhafi needs to leave," while calling for NATO military operations to be stepped up.

"NATO must fully play its role, and it is not doing so sufficiently," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

Dergham said a "weakening of the resolve of NATO and of the international community" would save the day for Kadhafi. "Doha is about a formula not to divide Libya but on how to take it to the next step," she said.

The rebels taking part in the Doha meeting of the contact group set up at a London conference in late March have rejected an African Union roadmap calling for a ceasefire without ousting Kadhafi.

With NATO countries and Arab states reluctant to deploy ground forces, Alani said the coalition should use combat helicopters to dislodge forces loyal to Kadhafi, while arming and training rebel fighters.

"NATO will never put forces on the ground, nor the Arabs; and they will never enter a new combat field, after Afghanistan and Iraq," he said.

"The only solution is to intensify the air action by introducing helicopters to target Kadhafi forces in populated areas, to organise and arm the rebels, and organise volunteer units trained by NATO," he said.


AFP / Jacques Charmelot /Expatica