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World watches Doha as Libya talks begin

Libya rebels will today address an international contact including world powers and the United Nations as the intervention appears to stall on the ground and bickering ensues within the coalition.

DOHA // Talks on the Libyan crisis are underway in the Qatari capital with delegations gathered to map out international intervention and meet with rebel leaders.

The so-called Contact Group for Libya is expected to discuss increasing military aid to the opposition government, or Transitional National Council, and voice concern about the pace of its war against the forces Col Muammar Qaddafi. The conference marks the first time the rebels have addressed the alliance as a group, and their leaders are looking to bolster international credibility.

The meetings began on Wednesday as division deepens in the Nato-led coalition and battle in Libya appears stalled. France and Britain have this week demanded that Nato to intensify its air strikes, and an African Union-brokered cease-fire was scrapped over disagreements about the future of Col Qaddafi.

Heavy fighting continues in Libya, where the coastal city of Misurata has been under siege of Col Qaddafi's army for six weeks. Conditions for civilians in the city, and in other battles zones, are reported to be desperate and worsening.

Officials with Qatar's foreign ministry, the host of the meetings, would not confirm if these issues would be on the table at Wednesday's meeting but said they would likely be addressed at a press conference in the evening.

Libya's former spy chief and foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, has arrived in Doha with claims that he will advise the group, but so far the rebels have distanced themselves from the former Qaddafi confidante.

"We are sending a delegation to Doha soley to meet with the contact group, but it's not part of the agenda to meet with Mr Koussa," a rebel spokesman said at a press conference in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, but added "it's not something rejected or accepted".

Mahmud Shammam, a member of the rebel delegation in Doha, said on Tuesday the meetings will be a boost for the credibility of the anti-Qaddafi movement. Qatar, along with France and Italy, have recognized the Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya.

"We want to move from the de facto recognition of the council to an internationally recognised legitimacy," Mr Shammam said.

Whether this goal is realistic may be determined by the rebels' presentation to the contact group today. Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, attended the meeting as well as at least 20 foreign ministers, including those from Britain and France. Representatives of Nato, the United Nations, Africa Union, Arab League and African Union were also in attendance.

Qatar's role as host to the event is the latest peacemaking endeavor that includes past mediations in Yemen, Lebanon and Sudan. It was reported on Tuesday that Qatar had sold one million barrels of crude oil on behalf of the rebel government, the Qatari state news agency QNA reported.

QNA said the move was done "to ease the suffering of the Libyan brethren and to meet their humanitarian needs within the context of the Qatari position which supports the Libyan people in their current difficult circumstances".

While much hope has been attached to today's meetings, analysts have described the wide-ranging scope of challenges facing the group, and its own inner squabbles, as too confounding for a single meeting. What emerges after the day-long talks, some say, might have more spin than substance.

"It's going to be very difficult for them to make a clear decision given not only the differences of opinion in the alliance but the changeable situation on the ground in Libya," said said David Roberts, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in Doha.

cmcdermid@thenational.ae

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