DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates said on Sunday it had recognized Libyan rebels as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, the state news agency reported, becoming the second Arab state to take such a move.
"This recognition affirms that the UAE is committed to maintaining strong ties with the Libyan people," Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan said in a statement carried on WAM.
"Based on this, UAE's dealing with the (rebel) Transitional National Council will take the form of a government-to-government relationship in all issues related to Libya."
He said the UAE will open a representative office soon in Benghazi, the east Libyan city where rebels fighting the government of veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi are based.
The announcement came during a visit to the UAE by rebel council head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil.
Qatar said in March that it recognized the rebels fighting Gaddafi, and Qatar and the UAE have been the only Arab countries to offer military assistance to NATO operations against Gaddafi in favor of the rebels.
The rebellion against Gaddafi's 41-year rule began three months ago. Gaddafi remains in power in the capital Tripoli despite defections in his entourage, the impact of sanctions on supplies and NATO air strikes that have pounded his compound.
Arab governments have been reluctant to come out openly with the rebels for fear of setting a precedent as many face popular protests of their own following the ouster of Egyptian and Tunisian rulers this year in uprisings.
Arab public opinion has been ambivalent about the Western involvement in Libya and civilian deaths caused by NATO operations.
(Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Andrew Heavens)