Libyan rebels seek international recognition

Tripoli/ Washington: Amid growing calls for NATO to step up its campaign in Libya, rebels seeking to topple Muammar Gaddafi are set to make their first appearance on the world stage at a key meet in Doha, where they would press for legitimacy to their group.

At the conference of the `International Contact Group on Libya` in the Qatari capital, the rebels are expected to tell the world leaders that 68-year-old Gaddafi`s removal is the only way out of their country`s deepening crisis, after an African Union attempt to broker a peace deal collapsed.

On the eve of the meeting, a spokesman for the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC), which is seeking international recognition, said yesterday they would accept nothing short of the removal of Gaddafi and his sons from the country.

"We want to move from the de facto recognition of the council to an internationally-recognised legitimacy," the spokesman, Mahmud Shammam, was quoted as saying by the media.

The rebels also hope to press the global community to lift sanctions on eastern Libya

Dismissing Qatar`s role in the conflict, a spokesman of the Libyan regime said that "we are very hopeful that the American people and the American government will not buy into the Qatari lies and Qatari schemes."

"Qatar is hardly a partner of any kind. It`s more of an oil corporation than a true nation," the spokesman said.

Among those expected to attend the Doha talks is former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who fled to Britain last month after he defected.

Koussa, once a top aide of Gaddafi, will not formally participate in the meeting but may hold talks on the sidelines.

"He`s not connected to (the rebel) Transitional National Council in any way or shape," Mustafa Gheriani, a media liaison official of the rebels, was quoted as saying by Al-Jazeera.

No Gaddafi representatives are expected to attend the meet this evening.

The `Contact Group` was formed at an international ministerial conference in London on March 29 and includes European powers, the US, allies from the Middle East and a number of international organisations.

The talks in Doha come amid growing calls for NATO to intensify its campaign in Libya, where pro-Gaddafi forces continued to launch more attacks against rebels in the city of Misrata.

Misrata, the last rebel-held area in the west, has been under siege for more than six weeks. Rights groups have warned of a shortage of food and medical supplies in the region if the crisis continued.

France and Britain yesterday asked NATO to intensify military operations against the Libyan regime to protect civilians.

NATO is not doing "enough", French Foreign Minister Allen Juppe said, as he clamoured for heavier strikes to destroy heavy weaponry used by Gaddafi`s forces in Libya to break the present stalemate on the ground.

"NATO must play its role fully. It wanted to take the lead in operations," Juppe said, adding that Libyan civilians remain at risk.

William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, also called on NATO to step up military operations against the Libyan regime and asked Gaddafi to quit.

"We must maintain and intensify our efforts in NATO," Hague said, echoing Juppe.

However, the United States exuded confidence in NATO`s ability to conduct a successful operation in Libya, despite the alliance`s strong criticism by Britain and France.

"We have every confidence in NATO`s ability to carry out the task of enforcing the arms embargo as well as the no-fly zone and the protection of civilians in Libya," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington.

"The US and other key partners had capabilities that they brought to this operation up front, and then our role would diminish as NATO stepped up and took command and control of the operation and that`s what`s happened," Toner said.

The White House also expressed confidence in NATO`s abilities.

"We have full confidence in NATO`s capacities. NATO is fully capable of and is achieving the goals set out for it and prescribed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.