UK and French want Libya 'transition' preparation

Libyan rebels are surging westwards
Libyan rebels are surging westwards

By Alex Stevenson

Libyan rebels should begin organising a "transition process", Britain and France have said, as a rapid advance into Muammar Gaddafi's heartland continues.

A joint statement issued ahead of tomorrow's international conference on the future of Libya called on civil society leaders and the interim national transitional council to unite with all others "prepared to join the process of transition to democracy".

British forces were in action over the weekend, when 22 tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery pieces were destroyed on armed reconnaissance sorties.

This "involves extremely skilful and courageous work by British pilots," David Cameron told MPs.

A separate Tornado raid "deep into the Libyan desert" targeted an ammunition bunker which it is believed had been used to resupply Col Gaddafi's forces. Initial reports suggest the bunkers have been destroyed.

"It is for the people of Libya to choose how they are governed and to govern them," the prime minister added.

"They have a far better chance of doing that today than they did two weeks ago."

Britain's military efforts are part of a wider attempt to prepare the ground for the rapid westward rebel advance, which has seen key Libyan towns including Ajdabiya, Ras Lanuf and Brega change hands in recent days.

Col Gaddafi's hometown, Sirte, is the latest target for coalition air raids. If it falls there is a chance of assisting Misrata, the major Libyan city starved of food and electricity for the last month by the Gaddafi regime.

Tomorrow's London summit will see foreign ministers gather to examine long-term support for the Libyan people as they "transition into the future", the Foreign Office said.

Options for humanitarian assistance and international support from the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, Nato and the Arab League will be explored.

The conference will also seek to demonstrate the international community's unity of purpose and "send an unequivocal message on behalf of the international community that we will continue to implement UN security council resolution, including protecting the civilian population from violent attack", the Foreign Office said.

"We call on all Libyans who believe that Gaddafi is leading Libya into a disaster to take the initiative now to organize a transition process," the joint statement added.

"We encourage them to begin a national political dialogue, leading to a representative process of transition, constitutional reform and preparation for free and fair elections."

The conference follows Nato's decision to assume control of all aspects of military operations in Libya.

Yesterday the alliance's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, confirmed that Nato was fully in charge of all military activity over Libya, completing a transition from the initial US-led international action.

The shift will end the 'dual control' phase entered into last week, where Nato accepted responsibility for protecting civilians under UN security council resolution 1973 but not for broader military action pressuring Col Gaddafi's regime.

"In the last few weeks, the Libyan people have demonstrated their courage and their determination. Like all other peoples, they have the right freely to choose their leaders," Britain and France's statement concluded.

"We must unite to help them make a new beginning."

Monday afternoon's joint UK-French statement will underline the impression that the two countries are leading the coalition's response to the Libya crisis, with Barack Obama's administration keen to avoid another high-profile US-dominated international intervention.


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