Libya conference steps up pressure on Gaddafi


London : An international conference on the Libya conflict pledged Tuesday to continue the military action against the embattled regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi while increasing support for opposition groups.

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The one-day meeting, attended by foreign ministers from 35 nations and a number of international organisations, agreed to set up a Libya Contact Group which would oversee and direct the multinational efforts to help the people of Libya.

“This has been a very important day for Libya”, said British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who hosted the conference.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen were among those attending, as were top level representatives of the Arab League, the African Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Arab countries present including Qatar, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The international coalition on Libya had been “deepened and widened,” said Hague, adding that Sweden had offered to provide eight fighter planes for the military operations, which are now fully under NATO command.

The first meeting of the new Contact Group will take place in the Gulf state of Qatar in the next few weeks.

Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, told journalists that while the world was currently witnessing “sad” events in Libya, the conference had brought “hope for the future”.

However, the time would come where the international coalition would have to “evaluate” whether the air strikes were “effective or not” in protecting the people of Libya or whether further measures needed to be taken.

“We are not going to invade Libya, but we cannot let the people of Libya suffer for so long,” said the Qatari leader. He also said he regretted that Arab states were “not more serious” in their efforts to back the Libya coalition.

On the fringes of the conference, Libya’s Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) presented a document for the rebuilding of a democratic Libya after the departure of Gaddafi.

Its chairman, Mahmoud Jibril, held talks with a wide range of conference participants Tuesday, even though he was not officially invited to the meeting.

He held talks with US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Alain Juppe of France.

However, a spokesman for the British government declined to comment on speculation that Britain could follow the lead of France by formally recognising the ITNC.

At a separate news conference earlier, representatives of the Council said they would welcome the supply of arms to opposition groups fighting Gaddafi in Libya.

“We ask for political support more than arms, but if we could get both it would be great,” Mahmoud Shammam, press spokesman for the Council, said.

However, the supply of arms was not a “condition” for the Council’s relations with foreign countries.

The Council was looking for recognition from the international community, and hoped that other countries would soon follow the example of France in granting it.

Hague said that although the supply of arms to the Libyan opposition had not been discussed at the conference, this was not ruled out by the UN resolution on Libya.

The issue of arms was also raised by Clinton, who said the US government had not yet taken a decision on whether to supply the rebels, who would, however, receive continued funding from the US.

But she,too, made clear that arms supplies would be legal under the UN resolution.

“It is our interpretation that (UN Security Council resolution) 1973 amended or overrode the absolute prohibition on arms to anyone in Libya, so that there could be a legitimate transfer of arms if a country should choose to do that,” said Clinton.