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Next international talks on Libya to be in UAE

Meeting in Rome discusses how to help financially the opponents of Muammar Qaddafi, who say they need $1.5bn in the coming months just for food, medicine and other basic supplies.

The next international talks on Libya will be held in the UAE, the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said this afternoon after the meeting of the International Contact Group in Rome.

The meeting in Rome was focused on how to  help financially the opponents of Muammar Qaddafi, who say they need $1.5 billion in the coming months just for food, medicine and other basic supplies.

The meeting agreed on a new fund to aid Libya's rebels, with the US and Europe promising to tap frozen assets of Muammar Qaddafi's regime despite still unresolved legal issues.

Kuwait has pledged $180 million for a fund to help the cash-strapped Libyan rebels, while Qatar is putting in $400m to $500m, the Qatari prime minister, Hammad bin Jassim al Thani, said at the meeting.

The United States is trying to free up some of the more than $30bn it has frozen in Libyan assets so it can support the Libyan rebels, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton told the conference.

Mrs Clinton said the Obama administration, working with Congress, wants "to tap some portion of those assets owned by Colonel Qaddafi and the Libyan government in the United States, so we can make those funds available to help the Libyan people."

The United States has already pledged $53m in humanitarian aid and authorised up to $25m in non-lethal assistance to the rebels, including medical supplies, boots, tents, rations and personal protective gear. The first shipment is set to arrive in Benghazi in the coming days.

The meeting of 22 nations and some international organisations also included the Nato chief, the Arab League, and the leader of Libya's opposition council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who used to be Colonel Qaddafi's justice minister.

Italy, the conference co-host Qatar, and France have given diplomatic recognition to the rebels, who are based in the western Libyan city of Benghazi. Mr Frattini opened the four-hour closed session with a call for other nations to do so as well.

"This will help strengthen our Benghazi partners and increase the Gadhafi regime's sense of isolation," Mr Frattini said.
Since the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi broke out in mid-February, the two sides have largely been locked in a stalemate. A US and now Nato-led bombing campaign, launched in mid-March, has kept Colonel Qaddafi's forces from advancing to the east, but has failed to give the rebels a clear battlefield advantage.

Nato said earlier this week that its warplanes will keep up the pressure on Gadhafi's regime as long as it takes to end the violence in Libya.

Nato air strikes destroyed at least two helicopters near the Libyan town of Zintan as government forces transported them on trucks, a rebel spokesman in Zintan told Reuters today.

"Nato destroyed two or three helicopters carried by big trucks on Thursday," said the spokesman, called Abdulrahman. "Witnesses told me they saw smoke rising from the area. Those kinds of trucks are usually used for carrying tanks.

Nato nations are increasingly realising, however, that air strikes and other military action alone will not do the job of ending Colonel Qaddafi's relentless assault on his people, and that funding the opposition as well as working for the Libyan leader's ouster could be the key to success.

The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, has said the military intervention must end "as rapidly as possible," and warned that sending in international ground troops would set the stage for a "quagmire".

Mr Frattini has said while it is impossible to set a date for an end to Nato's military operation, the "political goal is for military action to cease as soon as possible."

He urged the UN Security Council sanctions committee to figure out how the rebels can request unfreezing billions of dollars in Libyan assets to be used for humanitarian purposes.

It was the second meeting of the group after a gathering in Doha, Qatar, last month. Participants agreed to hold their next get-together in the United Arab Emirates in June.

Turkey called for a seven-day timeline within which to negotiate a ceasefire in Libya, Mr Frattini said, but there were few details from the meeting on how that could happen or on any diplomatic solution.

The rebels have also called for weapons to be able to defend themselves from Colonel Qaddafi's better-equipped forces.
Rebel spokesman Abdul Hafid Ghaug said in Benghazi that no country had sent the arms that the rebel forces say they desperately need. "Up to this point we have not received any commitments (for weapons) from any friendly nation," he said.

British officials said the Rome meeting would also seek to impose new restrictions on arms smuggling and mercenaries in Libya, call for renewed action to cut off Libya's state television service and try to restrict Colonel Qaddafi's exports of crude oil and his ability to import refined oil products.

Britain has expelled two more Libyan diplomats from London days after it ordered the country's ambassador to leave, the Foreign Office said today.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, said: "I ordered the expulsion of the two diplomats on the basis that their activities were contrary to the interests of the UK."

The expulsions were ordered on Wednesday and the diplomats and their families have until May 11 to leave Britain.

"We keep the status of the Libyan Embassy and its staff under constant review," Mr Hague said in a statement. "I judged that the behaviour of these individuals had become unacceptable, and that they should therefore be declared persona non grata." On Sunday, the  Libyan ambassador, Omar Jelban, was given 24 hours to leave Britain after the British government said its embassy in Tripoli had been attacked.

In February, Britain announced that it had closed its embassy in Tripoli and evacuated staff because of the "deteriorating situation" in Libya.

Then in March Britain expelled five Libyan diplomats in protest at the Libyan authorities' actions and because they could pose a threat to national security.

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