France in contact with Libyans over Gaddafi

France’s foreign minister says his country has had “contact” with emissaries from the Libyan leadership concerning the departure of Muammar Gaddafi.

“There are contacts but it’s not a negotiation proper at this stage,” Alain Juppe told France Info radio station on Tuesday.

“Everybody is in contact with everybody. The Libyan regime is sending messengers everywhere, to Turkey, New York, Paris.”

“Emissaries are telling us Gaddafi is ready to go, let’s talk about it.”

Juppe did not say who the emissaries were but Bernard Valero, the French foreign ministry spokesman, said: “These are emissaries who say they are coming in the name of Gaddafi.

“What is important is that we send them the same message and stay in close contact with our allies on this.”

Also speaking on Tuesday, Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, told a parliamentary commission: “A political solution [for Libya] is more than ever indispensable and is beginning to take shape.”

Fillon spoke before the French parliament ahead of a vote that saw the European country agree to extend its military operation in Libya.

The National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to grant further funding for the operation – nearly four months after French planes started bombing troops loyal to Gaddafi in eastern Libya – with 482 deputies voting in favour and 27 against.

Continued military action

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris ahead of the vote, said it was a foregone conclusion that parliament would vote in favour of continuing the operation.

Rowland said those in favour of continuing were “arguing that now – when if fact the Gadddafi forces appear to be on the retreat – now is not the time for the international community to show that its will is in any way weakening”.

Razi Hamadi, of the French Socialist Party, told Rowland that his party agreed with continued military action for three reasons: “Number one, the respect of the [UN] resolution, there is no military activity on the floor; secondly the protection of the citizens and the civilians; and third, to have a political process to get out of the crisis.”

Regarding the reports that France was in negotiations with the Gaddafi regime, Hamadi said: “I think the official position of France is not to say there is negotiations; they say there is contact, but no negotiations.”

At the weekend Gerard Longuet, the French defence minister, made remarks saying the rebels should start direct negotiations with Gaddafi’s camp.

Gaddafi’s son

On Monday, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said the Libyan regime was in talks with the French government.

“The truth is that we are negotiating with France and not with the rebels,” the Algerian El Khabar newspaper quoted Saif al-Islam as saying from Tripoli.

However, French officials denied any shift in position on Monday and said Paris had merely sent messages to Tripoli via intermediaries making clear the Libyan leader must relinquish power and withdraw his troops to enable a political solution.

France has spearheaded the NATO-led air campaign in Libya with Britain under a UN mandate to protect civilians, and it was the first to launch air strikes against troops loyal to Gaddafi in March.

But after more than three months of bombing, international leaders are puzzling over how to end the crisis.

Juppe and Fillon on Tuesday reiterated that Gaddafi had to quit, without saying if that meant he could do so without quitting the country too.

“He must go. He must at least surrender power. After that, it’s up to the Libyan people to decide,” Fillon told Europe 1 radio.

In an interview with French daily Le Figaro on Tuesday, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, the Libyan prime minister, said Tripoli was ready to “negotiate without conditions” but that the bombing would have to stop first.

“You don’t create democracy under bombs … it doesn’t work like that,” he said.

When asked if Gaddafi could be excluded from a political solution, Mahmoudi suggested the Libyan leader could stand aside.

“The Guide [Gaddafi] will not intervene in discussions,” he said. “He is ready to respect the decision of the people.”

( / 12.07.2011)

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