Britain to help Kadhafi hunt, PM vows in Libya

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David Cameron pledged Britain's help in hunting down fugitive strongman Moamer Kadhafi as he and France's Nicolas Sarkozy Thursday became the first foreign leaders to visit the new Libya.

"We must keep on with the NATO mission until civilians are all protected and until this work is finished," the British prime minister told a joint news conference in Tripoli on a lightning visit to the Libyan capital.

"We will help you to find Kadhafi and to bring him to justice," he said.

The French president said the toppled despot remained a "danger" and that there was a "job to finish" in eliminating the remaining strongholds of his forces.

Sarkozy, accompanied by Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on what Finance Minister Francois Baroin described as an "historic" visit, insisted there was "no ulterior motive" in Western assistance to the new Libya.

"We did what we did because we though it was right," he declared.

The two men, whose forces spearheaded the NATO air war that helped topple Kadhafi, are immensely popular among ordinary Libyans for their role in ending the fugitive strongman's 42 years of iron-fisted rule.

They held talks with the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who earlier gave assurances Tripoli had been sufficiently secured since its capture from Kadhafi forces last month for their visit to go ahead.

Cameron said NATO would continue its UN-mandated air operations until Kadhafi's remaining redoubts around his hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and in a slew of Saharan oases extending to Libya's southern borders.

"We will go on with the NATO mission for as long as is necessary under UN Rresolution 1973 to protect civilians," he said.

"This work isn't finished yet. There are still parts of Libya under Kadhafi control.

"And the message I think to Kadhafi and all those still holding arms on his behalf is it is over. Give up. The mercenaries should go home.

"Those who still think Kadhafi has any part in any part of government of any part of this country should forget it. He doesn't. It is time for him to give himself up."

Cameron said Britain would release another 12 billion pounds (18.96 billion dollars) in frozen Kadhafi regime assets as soon as the UN Security Council approved a draft resolution which Britain and France are to put forward on Friday.

Britain has already approved the release of 1 billion pounds (1.58 billion dollars), the last tranche of which is to be handed over to the new Libyan authorities soon.

"If we can pass the UN resolution that we will be putting forward with France tomorrow, there's a further 12 billion pounds of assets in the UK alone that we will be looking to unfreeze," he said.

A massive security operation was mounted for the visit, with roadblocks along the road in from Metiga airport on Tripoli's eastern outskirts and the city-centre hotel where the two leaders held their talks cordoned off by French-backed local forces.

The British and French leaders spent a few hours in Tripoli before heading on to Libya's second largest city Benghazi, which served as the rebels' base during their seven-month uprising against Kadhafi.

The visit by the pair came as a large convoy of NTC forces zeroed in on Kadhafi's hometown of Sirte in gruelling heat on Thursday, confident of overcoming one of the strongman's final pockets of resistance.

The convoy -- comprised of heavy artillery and pickup trucks loaded with machineguns, rocket launchers and Katyusha rockets -- split up at the desert town of Abu Qurin.

"We are turning the tables on Kadhafi. We were attacked in Misrata on three fronts, and now we're going to attack Sirte on three fronts," said Fawzy Sawawy, head of the Mountains Brigade.

As they headed farther to the east, an AFP correspondent received unconfirmed reports that NATO struck a south-bound convoy of pro-Kadhafi armoured vehicles about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Sirte.

The task of the forces loyal to Libya's new rulers appeared to have been made easier as their advance was preceded by a series of NATO air strikes in and around Sirte.

In an operational update, NATO said it had on Wednesday struck a command and control node, a military vehicle storage facility, four radar systems and two surface-to-air missile systems in the vicinity of the city.

And Khaled Bakir, a soldier from Misrata's Tripoli Street which Kadhafi's forces notoriously flattened during the siege of the port city, vowed to overrun Sirte.

"Misrata has Libya's top fighters. Our spirits are high. We are going to erase Kadhafi and his men from the face of this earth," he said.

The convoy's advance came after the NTC chief, Abdel Jalil, appealed for new weapons deliveries to help capture Kadhafi's remaining bastions, which include Bani Walid and Sabha.

In an interview with the BBC, he said that many of Kadhafi's remaining forces had now massed in the far south and that the NTC needed more arms to defeat them.

"There will be fierce battles in Sabha with equipment that we do not yet have, and we ask for more equipment to retake these places," he said.

Kadhafi spokesman Mussa Ibrahim accused Libya's new rulers of "starving" loyalist areas in their bid to subjugate them.

"Daily life in Sirte and Bani Walid (a desert town to its southwest) is very difficult," Ibrahim, who is also a cousin of the toppled tyrant, told Syria-based Arrai television.

"They are starving entire regions to force the people to give themselves up," he said.

"They have cut off electricity and water as well as supply routes and are preventing food and medicines from coming in, thereby violating all international norms."

Ibrahim, who did not say where he was, said Kadhafi was in "perfect health" and that his morale was up but did not indicate the fugitive strongman's whereabouts.

© 2011 AFP

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