x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Arabs and West vow to protect Libyan civilians, bring down Qaddafi

Western and Arab diplomats dismiss criticism of the international role in Libya and promise that civilians will be protected and that Col Muammar Qaddafi will be ousted.

DOHA // Western and Arab diplomats yesterday brushed off criticism of the international intervention in Libya and promised civilians would be protected and the regime of Col Muammar Qaddafi brought down.

The regime has "lost all legitimacy" and Col Qaddafi must leave power at once to allow the Libyan people to decide their future, top diplomats in Doha for the first meeting of the International Contact Group on Libya said in a joint communique yesterday.

Qatari and Italian officials went further, saying Libyans should be supplied with weapons to defend themselves against Col Qaddafi's forces.

"The main aim of our meeting is to help the Libyan people decide their own fate … and to help the Libyan people defend themselves so they can decide on their future," said Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, the crown prince of Qatar.

The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which sanctioned the use of military means to protect civilians, did not prohibit the provision of arms for self defence.

Mr Frattini said it was "morally justified" to give Libyans the means to protect themselves. "When Qaddafi is hiding tanks in the streets to prevent Nato air strikes, and we can't stop them from being brutally attacked by tanks and bombs, then either we make it possible for them to defend themselves or we withdraw our commitment to helping them," he said.

But others among the coalition's main players were not ready to commit to arming the rebels. While Sheikh Hamad said in the closing press conference that "there has been a lot of discussion on this point", he added that "there are different points of view on the implementation of resolution 1973".

The British secretary of state for foreign affairs, William Hague, said the UK was committed to providing only non-lethal equipment to the rebels.

The Belgian foreign minister, Steven Vanackere, went further, telling reporters: "The UN resolution speaks about protecting civilians, not arming them."

In its first address to the alliance, Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC) pushed for more Nato air strikes and claimed that civilians were not sufficiently protected.

Sheikh Tamin described the inclusion of the TNC as the most important accomplishment of the meeting. Mr Hague said the alliance was "impressed" by the council and "believes they are sincere" in their vision of a more democratic Libya.

In its closing statement, the contact group gave the interim rebel government its biggest boost yet for international recognition, stating: "The [council] is a legitimate interlocutor, representing the aspirations of the Libyan people."

Sheikh Tamim said discussions with the Libyan rebel leaders focused on the current military and humanitarian situation in Libya, allowing the contact group to "reassess what we did well as a coalition, and what we did not".

"The most important thing is that the Libyan public know the international community is following up on what's happening to them. We are determined to finish this mission as the Libyan people expected," he said.

To provide funding for the rebels, who have complained of poor equipment, resources and humanitarian aid, the contact group agreed to provide "a method for the [council] and international community to manage revenue to fund structural needs in Libya". Specifically, the rebels will be allowed to use assets of the Qaddafi regime that were frozen in European banks and will be assisted in the selling of Libyan oil, according to officials.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said about 490,000 Libyans had fled the fighting between rebels and Qaddafi loyalists, and more than 330,000 others had been internally displaced.

"Under our worst-case scenario, as many as 3.6 million people could eventually require humanitarian assistance," said Mr Ban, who called for financial support for the rebels and urged the international community to "speak with one voice".

One of the day's more intriguing - and divisive - elements was the no-show of the former Libyan spy chief and foreign minister Moussa Koussa. The former Qaddafi confidant, who defected and fled to London as fighting began in Libya, had been allowed to leave Britain under claims that he would advise the contact group. Mr Koussa's departure from London was criticised because of his alleged connections to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing above Scotland.

When asked about his reputed role at the meeting, Sheikh Tamim said "he was not invited".

Mr Hague said, however, that "Moussa Koussa wanted to leave a murderous regime. We think it was right to support him leaving, and right for him to discuss the situation in Libya, and discuss it in Arab nations".

Speaking alongside Mr Hague and Sheikh Tamin, Mr Frattini said the defection of Mr Koussa was a clear sign that the intervention was intensifying the pressure on the Qaddafi government and convincing those still inside it - and the world - that the coalition mission would ultimately succeed.

cmcdermid@thenational.ae