LONDON // The UN is to attempt to broker a peaceful solution to the conflict in Libya, it was announced last night.
As the US and Britain made it clear that military attacks on the Qaddafi regime would continue, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he was sending an envoy back to Libya in a bid to secure a peaceful settlement in talks with both sides.
Meanwhile on the ground in Libya yesterday tanks and rockets pushed back rebels from near Col Qaddafi's home town of Sirte, a key government stronghold on the road to the Tripoli. After the rebels' push westward restored all the territory they lost over the past week, Col Qaddafi's troops managed to drive them out of Bin Jawwad, a hamlet east of Sirte.
Yeserday's diplomatic moves came at a special conference in London on Libya's future, attended by Arab League, African Union, UN, EU and Nato leaders and the foreign ministers from more than 30 nations, including the UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al Thani, the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, which, like the UAE, is contributing fighter planes to enforce the Libyan no-fly zone, said after the conference that he regretted that more Arab nations had not contributed to the military effort.
He said the international military operations had encouraged ordinary Libyans to believe they were "about to get rid of that murderous regime and be able to achieve a better future and have freedom".
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, made it clear last night that Libya's future would not involve Col Qaddafi.
"All of us have to continue to increase the pressure on and deepen the isolation of the Qaddafi regime," she said. "This includes a united front of political and diplomatic pressure that makes clear to Qaddafi that he must go, that sends a strong message of accountability and that sharpens the choice for those around him.
"It includes financial pressure, through the vigorous enforcement of sanctions."
Mrs Clinton also suggested that it would be legal to arm the rebels. "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," she told reporters.
William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, said after the conference that Col Qaddafi and his regime had "completely lost legitimacy and will be held accountable for their actions".
He called the conference "a significant milestone" in allowing the Libyan people to determine their own future.
Mr Hague told a press conference at the Foreign Office: "We have said throughout that we want the Libyan people to be in the lead in determining their future and today was a significant milestone in that process."
The British prime minister, David Cameron, opening the conference yesterday afternoon, urged the international community to deliver a "new beginning" for the Libyan people with the creation of the contact group to provide sustained political support for the country as it undergoes change.
"We are all here united in one purpose and that is to help the Libyan people in their hour of need," he said
"Today I believe should be about a new beginning for Libya, a future in which the people of Libya can determine their own destiny, free from violence and
It was a message echoed by Mrs Clinton, who said that air strikes would continue against the Qaddafi regime until it stopped attacking civilians and allowed in humanitarian aid.
She also called for a "united front of diplomatic and political pressure" to force Col Qaddafi to relinquish power after more than 40 years.
"All of us must continue to increase the pressure on and deepen the isolation of the Qaddafi regime through other means as well," Mrs Clinton said.
"This includes a unified front of political and diplomatic pressure that makes clear to Gaddafi that he must go."
Mr Ban welcomed the plan for a contact group. "I know that everybody is very much anxious and passionate to help the Libyan people and to address this crisis," he told the conference.
"But we need to have very close co-ordination and I am going to lead this co-ordination, if you agree."
He said that years of dictatorial rule meant the Libyan people would need significant help in achieving a smooth transition to democracy.
Mr Ban added that there were "deeply-disturbing reports about the lack of protection of civilians, including migrant workers, as well as abuses of human rights by the parties to the conflict".
Although representatives of the Libyan opposition were not invited to the conference, a delegation from the Interim National Council (INC) was in London and met both Mrs Clinton and Mr Cameron, as well as French and German foreign ministers.
Led by special envoy Mahmoud Jabril, the INC issued a statement in which it set out its vision for the democratic Libya after the defeat of the "illegal" Qaddafi regime. The aim of the INC, it said, was to create a "civil society that recognises intellectual and political pluralism and allows for the peaceful transition of power through legal institutions and ballot boxes; in accordance with a national constitution crafted by the people and endorsed in a referendum".
It envisaged that every adult citizen would have the right to vote in "free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections as well as the right to run for office".
The statement added that the state would "respect the sanctity of religious doctrine and condemn intolerance, extremism and violence [and] denounce violence, terrorism, intolerance and cultural isolation".