U.K. paves way for flight of defectors

Published - April 06, 2011 01:27 am IST

Britain will lift its ban on members of the Libyan regime entering the U.K. if they renounce their loyalty to Muammar Qadhafi, Foreign Secretary, William Hague told MPs on Monday as western governments continued to try to engineer a political solution to the deadlocked two-month-old conflict.

The decision came as David Cameron announced an increase in Tornado strike aircraft to be deployed to hit Mr. Qadhafi's forces while on a visit to the airbase in southern Italy, where British pilots are stationed as they police the no-fly zone in Libya. Four extra jets will join the mission, making a total of 12.

In Tripoli, the Libyan government was “optimistic” that a political outcome to the crisis could be found, spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said, adding that the regime was “the most positive party in the whole conflict”. Its envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, arrived in the Turkish capital, Ankara, as part of a three-country tour, reportedly with a message that Libya was willing to negotiate a way out of the military impasse.

Mr. Obeidi's visits, combined with unconfirmed reports that two of Mr. Qadhafi's sons are proposing a transition to a constitutional democracy, suggest that significant elements of the regime may be ready to broker a deal on Libya's future.

However, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini dismissed Mr. Obeidi's proposals, demanding Mr. Qadhafi must relinquish power. The Libyan opposition and most of the international community say there can be no political deal without the departure of Mr. Qadhafi and his sons.

Shamsuddin Abdulmelah, spokesman for the opposition in Benghazi, said: “Qadhafi and his sons have to leave before any diplomatic negotiations can take place.” Italy — significant as the former colonial power and because of its strong ties with the Qadhafi regime — joined France and Qatar in recognising the rebel government in the east of the country. It said that the interim transitional national council, which represents the rebels in the east, was the international community's only legitimate interlocutor. Kuwait said it would also recognise the opposition de facto government within days. In the Commons, Mr. Hague said Libya had no future while Mr. Qadhafi remained in power and that the international community must keep up the pressure.

“The world is united in believing that the Qadhafi regime has lost all legitimacy and that he must go, allowing the Libyan people to determine their own future,” he said.

The defection last week of Libya's Foreign Minister and Qadhafi confidant, Moussa Koussa, “exposes its utter lack of legitimacy even in the eyes of those most closely associated with it in the past”.

Mr. Hague said coalition military action, humanitarian aid and diplomatic contacts with the rebel government would continue.

Libyan ministers and officials who are prepared to abandon the regime would be “treated with respect and in accordance with our laws”, he added. “In the case of anyone currently sanctioned by the EU and U.N. who breaks definitively with the regime, we will discuss with our partners the merits of removing the restrictions that currently apply to them while being clear that this does not constitute any form of immunity whatsoever ... Sanctions are designed to change behaviour and it is therefore right that they are adjusted when new circumstances arise.” Mr. Koussa — whose flight to the U.K. was termed a “departure” by Mr. Hague, rather than a defection — was refused formal leave to enter the U.K. because of sanctions, but was granted temporary admission and met by officials. The Foreign Secretary said he would be encouraged to co-operate with Scottish law enforcement officials who wished to question him about the Lockerbie bombing.

Mr. Hague confirmed that the U.K. had sent a diplomatic mission to Benghazi for talks with the interim council. The European Union also said it was sending envoys to the rebel capital today as a “listening exercise”.

Britain was not engaged in arming the rebels, Mr. Hague stressed, but would supply non-lethal equipment, including telecommunications which could not be intercepted, to “help with the protection of civilian lives and the delivery of humanitarian aid”.

In Tripoli, Moussa Ibrahim told a small group of foreign reporters the government was “optimistic that a general political solution can be found for the Libyan crisis”. It was, he added, “especially very positive about any peace deals. We have been the most positive party in the whole conflict.” He claimed that many countries were “beginning to realise that they had based their opinion on misinformation in the media about the actions of Libyan forces.

“Many actually feel embarrassed about the position they took based on media reports.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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