World powers move towards Gaddafi exile plan

International powers meeting in London on Tuesday edged closer to an exile plan for embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, as France said it was ready to discuss military aid for rebels.

More than 40 countries and organisations, including the United Nations and Nato, agreed to create a contact group to map out a future for Libya and to meet again as soon as possible in the Arab state of Qatar.

British Foreign Minister William Hague, who chaired the conference, said the delegates “agreed that Gaddafi and his regime have completely lost legitimacy”.

The representatives had agreed to continue military action until Gaddafi met all the conditions of the UN resolution authorising a no-fly zone and other measures to protect civilians, he added.

Qatar had also agreed to facilitate the sale of Libyan oil, he said.

The statement made no mention of an exile plan for Gaddafi, but Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that the participants had “unanimously” agreed that Gaddafi should leave the country.

“Beyond that, it depends on the country which may offer to welcome Gaddafi. There is as yet no formal proposal, no country has formulated such a plan, even the African countries which may be ready to make one,” he said.

Hague said Britain still wanted Gaddafi to face the International Criminal Court but refused to rule out the possibility of exile, which Spain’s foreign minister had also earlier described as a possibility.

“We’re not engaged in the United Kingdom in looking for somewhere for him to go, [but] that doesn’t exclude others doing so,” Hague said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that a UN special envoy would visit Tripoli to discuss the option of Gaddafi leaving the country.

But she said she was “not sure that we know exactly when we will get to any change in attitude”, from the regime.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the conference to plot a post-Gaddafi political landscape, as well as to iron out differences over the military mission.

Ten days of air strikes by the United States, France and Britain have allowed rebels to push back westwards, although they were halted near the key city of Sirte on Tuesday and Gaddafi’s forces swept through Misrata.

‘Unjust offensive’
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé admitted that arming or training the rebels was not covered in the UN Security Council resolutions on Libya.

“Having said that, we are prepared to discuss this with our partners,” he told reporters.

Clinton and Hague both said, however, that the issue had not been discussed at the talks.

In a letter addressed to the London meeting, Gaddafi said the offensive was “barbaric and unjust”.

Hague and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem said after the talks they believed Libya could “look forward to a future free from violence, oppression and uncertainty”, in an opinion piece for Asharq Al-Awsat, a London based Arabic newspaper.

Libya’s main opposition group, the Transitional National Council, issued a statement at the talks in London vowing to work for free and fair elections in a “modern, free and united state”.

The group’s envoy, Mahmud Jibril, was also in London and met with Clinton, Hague and the foreign ministers of France and Germany.

While Nato finally agreed on Sunday to take over full command of military operations in Libya from a US-led coalition, 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 having been announced as among the participants.

Qatar’s Jassem, playing down Arab disunity, said the decision to hold the first contact group meeting in Qatar demonstrated “the lead role that Arab countries are playing in bringing an end to this crisis”. - AFP

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