French Prez may visit Libyan rebel bastion: Report

Nicolas Sarkozy is 1st foreign leader to formally recognise Libyan rebels.

Last Updated: Apr 23, 2011, 14:01 PM IST

Paris: French President Nicolas Sarkozy intends to make a short trip to the Libyan rebel bastion of Benghazi, sources close to him said on Friday, as France steps up airstrikes against Muammar Gaddafi`s forces.

The head of the opposition Libyan National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, invited Sarkozy to the eastern city when he met the President in Paris this week, telling reporters a visit would boost the morale of opposition fighters.

Sources close to the President said that Sarkozy -- the first foreign leader to formally recognise the Libyan rebels -- is likely to accept the invitation but would not advance a date.

The timing of such trips to combat zones is always a closely held secret for security reasons.

"There is no date but he will go," said one of the sources.

"It`s being prepared, it will be quick -- probably sometime in May and likely during the first two weeks of the month."

The source added that Sarkozy wanted British Prime Minister David Cameron to accompany him to Libya, saying: "The idea is that it would be a Franco-British undertaking."

A spokesman in Cameron`s office declined to comment.

US Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential contender, travelled to Benghazi on Friday, becoming the most senior Western politician to visit the rebel headquarters.

He called on the United States to recognise the opposition council as the true voice of the Libyan people and transfer frozen Libyan assets to them.

France and Britain are leading efforts to ramp up a NATO bombing campaign against Gaddafi`s troops, but have run up against the reluctance of other coalition members unwilling to risk further involvement in the conflict.

Bureau Report