UK denies secret talks to end Libya fighting

British foreign office refutes suggestions made to Al Jazeera by Libyan deputy foreign minister.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays reports on the ‘talks to end the conflict’

The British foreign office has denied that the UK government has been holding secret talks with the Libyan government over ways to end the conflict in the North African state.

This comes after a senior Libyan minister told Al Jazeera on Saturday that he had been in Tunisia for discussions with “British officials”.

A British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson however said: “No representatives of HMG, or intermediaries, are involved in negotiations with the Libyan regime about a ceasefire. Our position is clear. Qaddafi must go, so that the Libyan people can determine their own future.”

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Earlier, Abdelati al-Obeidi, the Libyan deputy foreign minister, who has been leading the government’s diplomacy after foreign minister, Musa Kousa, defected, gave hints to Al Jazeera’s James Bays about the secret talks to end the war.

He suggested secret channels were being opened between Muammar Gaddafi’s government and the British with a view to ending the conflict.

Bays spoke to al-Obeidi on a flight to the southern Tunisian town of Djerba, and said the Libyan official was quite guarded in his approach and said that “he really was not authorised to tell me what had taken place at this meeting”.

“The deputy foreign minister did admit that he had come for talks which have been taking place with British citizens. He could not say what the talks were about but did say it was an exchange of views and a channel of communication being opened by them,” Bays said.

Willing to talk

Though al-Obeidi denied that there was any talk of an exit strategy for Gaddafi, he said the government was willing to talk to the opposition in Benghazi, our correspondent said.

He quoted al-Obeidi as saying: “We want to end this war and we want to end soon.”

“It is an indication of British agenda playing quite a leading role here, and in this behind-the-scene process, probably British diplomats or members of MI6 may have been involved. Remember they [MI6] were also involved in Kousa’s defection about two months ago,” our correspondent said.

The response from Britain has been reasonably low key, Bays added.

“I have talked to a representative of the British foreign ministry, a spokeswoman, who said there have been no talks with British diplomats. She said ‘they were aware that meetings had taken place with the minister and British citizens but made it clear that they were not civil servants and not diplomats’.”

Discussing the reported secret talks, Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley, reporting from Misurata on Saturday, said: “The rebel fighters would not be in favour of any kind of ceasefire. They want Gaddafi to stand trial for crimes against humanity.”

Continued strikes

NATO, meanwhile, continued its air strikes and carried out a rare day-time raid on the capital, Tripoli.

A number of explosions were heard throughout the night into Saturday, and at least one of the blasts was said to be near a compound used by Gaddafi.

Columns of smoke were seen rising over the skyline of the city and loud booms could be heard.

State television said earlier that overnight NATO raids caused “human and material” damage near Mizda, to the south.

Misurata – Libya’s third largest city – is now controlled by opposition forces and has been the scene of some of the fiercest battles in the conflict.

“On the ground there’s some kind of stalemate here,” Birtley said. “The area, 35km west of Misurata, is free and relatively safe but the situation at the frontline is very fluid. There have been exchanges of fire here and Grad rockets fired from the Gaddafi forces.”

Misurata’s western outskirts were shaken by heavy fighting on Friday.

Doctors at the local hospital said five opposition fighters were killed and more than a dozen others wounded in the combat.

Source : Al Jazeera


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