UK, French premiers visit Tripoli; peace still far off

Cameron, Sarkozy arrive in Libya to congratulate new leaders; Gaddafi whereabouts unconfirmed, loyalists still pose threat with fighting.

September 15, 2011 13:52
3 minute read.
Sarkozy and Cameron speak to press [file]

Libya R 311. (photo credit: Reuters/ BENOIT TESSIER)

TRIPOLI - On a trip to felicitate the new leaders they helped install, the French and British leaders landed in Libya on Thursday, but families fleeing besieged bastions of ousted strongman Muammar Gaddafi are a reminder that peace is still far off.

The visit is a victory lap for Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, who defied doubters at home to lead a NATO bombing campaign that succeeded in ushering in a victory by forces who swept away Gaddafi's 42-year rule last month.

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With security tight, spokesmen in Paris and London said the two had arrived in Tripoli. Cameron's office said they would meet Libyan leaders before a news conference at 12:45 p.m. local time. The two men were expected to fly on to Benghazi later.

Both are popular on the streets of Libya, where "Merci Sarkozy" and "Thank you Britain" are common graffiti slogans. Both may hope to earn political dividends back home from what now appears to have been a successful bet.

But on the eve of their visit, the leader of Libya's National Transitional Council said heavy battles lie ahead against Gaddafi loyalists who have refused to surrender.

NTC Vice Chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga told Reuters the two leaders would visit both Tripoli and Benghazi, where the NTC rulers are still based even though Gaddafi opponents seized the capital more than three weeks ago.

Western countries and neighbors are anxious to welcome Libya into the international community, not least so it can restart lucrative oil production frozen by six months of war.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is expected in Libya on Friday. Egypt's foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, is also due to visit. A US assistant secretary of state visited on Wednesday.

Libya's new leaders say the international community has been slow to release frozen assets; diplomats said on Wednesday Britain had circulated a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council to ease sanctions against Libya's National Oil Corp (NOC) and central bank, and hoped for a vote this week.

Cameron's office said in a statement: "He is expected to announce a further package of UK assistance to support the Libyan-led process of transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya."

NOC chairman Nouri Berouin told Reuters Libya would start exporting crude oil from the eastern port of Tobruk within 10 days and could produce 1 million barrels a day within six months.

But the failure to capture Gaddafi, and ongoing fighting in and around besieged towns still firmly held by the ousted leader's supporters, are proof that a peaceful and prosperous future for Libya is far from assured.

The European Union on Wednesday demanded an end to arbitrary killings and detentions by both sides, and especially to vigilante attacks on sub-Saharan Africans and black Libyans, who are widely accused of having fought for Gaddafi.

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