Libyan rebels deny talks with Gaddafi

A Libyan opposition leader said he saw no reason for NATO to curtail its airstrikes during Ramadan.

Brussels: A Libyan opposition leader denied on Wednesday that the rebels are negotiating with Muammar Gaddafi`s regime to find a way to end the conflict.

Mahmoud Jibril, the rebels` diplomatic chief, also said he saw no reason for NATO to curtail its airstrikes during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"All this talk about negotiations taking place between the regime and the National Transitional Council are totally false claims," Jibril said. The National Transitional Council is a political body created by the rebels.

Jibril was referring to comments on Tuesday by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon about efforts initiated by Russia and the African Union to mediate between the rebels and the regime. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, citing Libyan government emissaries, said Gaddafi was prepared to leave power.

In Washington, the US State Department also said it was dealing with envoys claiming to be Gaddafi`s representatives.

But Jibril dismissed the significance of such contacts.

"To my knowledge still there is no coherent, comprehensive political initiative on the table," Jibril said after meeting Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere.

In Brussels on Wednesday, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg recognised the National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

The rebels have been seeking more NATO close air support to open the way for an advance on Tripoli, the country`s capital. Jibril said he saw no reason for any letup in NATO`s bombing campaign — now entering its fifth month — during Ramadan, which starts around August 01.

NATO is worried that bombing a Muslim nation during the monthlong period of prayer, reflection and sunrise-to-sunset fasting could provoke a public backlash in the Islamic world.

"There is nothing in the religion that bans fighting during Ramadan," Jibril said after meeting senior European Union officials, including Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU`s executive arm.

In May, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton extended de facto recognition to the transitional council by opening a diplomatic office in Benghazi and pledging support for a democratic Libya.

"The EU is getting ready to assist in the construction of a new Libya," Barroso said. "Our post-conflict assistance is being set up now, so we can start work from `day one`."

Earlier on Wednesday, a delegation from the Libyan opposition held talks with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the North Atlantic Council, the military alliance`s governing body.

Fogh Rasmussen said NATO would continue its bombing campaign in Libya as long as Gaddafi`s forces threaten civilians.

"As long as that threat continues, we must continue to deal with it," he said.

Protests against the Libyan leader`s 42-year rule broke out in February, prompting a fierce government crackdown. The UN Security Council passed a resolution authorising force to protect the lives of civilians, and a US-led international coalition began air strikes on Gaddafi`s military sites in mid-March.

When NATO assumed command of the operation on March 31, the alliance expected that a sudden, sharp blow would quickly persuade Gaddafi to give up power. But, while the bombing campaign has managed to halt Gaddafi`s forces and prevent the fall of opposition-held cities such as Benghazi and Misrata, it has not been able to dislodge his regime.

Bureau Report

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