Britain, Italy hold out Gaddafi exile prospect

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2011 2:28 PM
Britain, Italy hold out Gaddafi exile prospect

By Adrian Croft

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 40 governments and international bodies gathered in London on Tuesday to plan for a Libya without Muammar Gaddafi, with Italy and Britain suggesting he might be allowed to go into exile.

With fighting raging between rebels and Gaddafi loyalists, Italy has put forward a proposal for a political deal to end Libya's crisis, including a quick ceasefire, exile for Gaddafi and dialogue between rebels and tribal leaders.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also implied exile might be a way to take Gaddafi out of the picture and settle the six-week-old uprising against his 40 years in power.

"We want him to leave power and that's what we've consistently said to the Libyan regime. We are not in control, of course, of where he might go," Hague told the BBC, adding he believed Gaddafi should face the International Criminal Court.

Britain and France led the push for a muscular intervention in the Libyan conflict and coalition air strikes have helped rebels in the east of the country to advance but questions remain about the end game in Libya.

Tuesday's meeting, starting at 1300 GMT (9 a.m. ET) and due to end with a news conference at 1630 GMT, is expected to set up a high-level steering group, including Arab states, to provide political guidance for the international response to Libya.

Attendees include U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, NATO leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 40 other foreign ministers.

POLITICAL DIRECTION

The meeting will discuss stepping up humanitarian aid to war-torn areas and call for a political process to enable Libyans to choose their own future, British officials said.

Hague held talks before the start of the conference with Mahmoud Jebril, a member of the rebel Libyan National Council, whom he had invited to London.

Clinton was also scheduled to meet Jebril before the conference as U.S. officials gave a positive assessment of rebel advances on the battlefield.

"They've clearly recovered a lot of momentum, both militarily and politically. They've covered a lot of ground," one senior U.S. administration official said.

The U.S. official said Clinton and Jebril may discuss further moves to release $33 billion in frozen Libyan assets to the opposition, although he gave no further details.

U.S. President Barack Obama vowed on Monday to work with allies to hasten the day when Gaddafi leaves power but said he would not use force to remove him. Hague also said Britain was not pursuing regime change.

However, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said Britain and France were demanding Gaddafi's departure.

Asked what would be "Mission Accomplished," Longuet told France Inter radio: "When the Libyan people are able to express themselves without being repressed."

Coalition air strikes against Gaddafi's forces have worried some countries, with Russia saying that the action goes beyond what was authorized by the United Nations. Russia will not be attending the London meeting, a British official said.

A ComRes poll for the Independent newspaper found seven out of 10 Britons were concerned action in Libya could result in forces being sucked into a long Iraq-style conflict.