Diplomats court opposition figure at Libya conference

Diplomats court opposition figure at Libya conference

An international conference aimed at charting the way forward in the Libya conflict got underway in London Tuesday amid intense diplomatic courting of a key figure in the opposition movement against Moamer Gaddafi, dpa reported.

On the fringes of the one-day meeting, Mahmoud Jibril, the special envoy for Libya's Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC), held talks with William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, and other key participants.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said Jibril would also be invited to Downing Street later Tuesday. But he declined to comment on speculation that Britain could follow the lead of France by formally recognizing the ITNC.

Jibril, a former Libyan foreign envoy, is not an official participant in the conference, organisers said. Hague also revealed that a UN envoy would travel to Libya straight after the London conference.

As the London conference got under way, Gaddafi called on the international coalition to stop what he called the "genocide" on Libya, according to the official JANA news agency.

Before the discussions began, Cameron held talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is among some 35 foreign ministers attending.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen are also represented, as are top level representatives of the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

After his talks with Jibril, Hague described the Libyan envoy as an "important and legitimate political interlocutor," but added he would not necessarily also be the next leader of Libya.

Arab countries including Qatar, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are also present.

The one-day meeting, which comes after 10 days of allied airstrikes on Libya, is aimed primarily at demonstrating a "maximum of political and diplomatic unity," according to its British hosts.

However, it will also look at the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people and attempt to launch a political transition process for the "post-Gaddafi era," according to Britain.

US President Barack Obama warned late Monday that the ultimate aim in Libya could not be regime change. "We went down that road in Iraq ... that is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya," he said.

Russia, which did not back the UN-authorized military action against the Gaddafi regime, has accused the international coalition of overstepping its mandate with an "unauthorized military intervention."

Participants said the conference will come under pressure to discuss proposals to offer Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi "a way out" of the current crisis by allowing him "safe passage" to a third country.

But Hague made clear Tuesday that he would prefer to see the Libyan leader appear at the International Criminal Court.

"I am not going to choose Colonel Gaddafi's retirement home," Hague said in a BBC interview.

Ahead of the summit, Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on Gaddafi's supporters to abandon him "before it is too late."

As the allied airstrikes on Libya continued Tuesday, reports about civilian deaths threatened to overshadow the conference.

In Moscow Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on the Libya coalition to clarify the ultimate aim of the military mission in view of reports of an increased number of "civilian victims."

While Turkey and Italy are among countries expected to present proposals aimed at offering Gaddafi a "way out" of the current crisis, Germany - which abstained in the UN vote - said it would offer extensive humanitarian aid to the Libyan opposition.

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