Libyan rebels were in Qatar Wednesday at an international forum to find ways to resolve the military stalemate with Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and map out a future for the north African country.
The Doha talks, expected to be the first high-profile arena for Gaddafi’s defected former foreign minister Musa Kusa, come amid growing divisions between Western powers over NATO’s level of involvement in the conflict.
Kusa is apparently traveling to the talks, also attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to “offer insights” to the so-called Contact Group of nations established at a conference on Libya in London last month.
However, with the loyalties of Gaddafi’s former spy chief still unclear after he fled to Britain last month, the rebels have indicated they are unwilling to deal with him.
As the Doha meeting got underway, early reports said discussions focused on the possibility of arming the rebels, the state of Libya’s conflict-hit oil industry and rebel insistence that the removal of Gaddafi be part of any peace plan.
Wednesday’s talks followed another day of bloody clashes in Libya, with heavy shelling by Gaddafi’s forces on the besieged western port of Misurata leaving at least 10 dead and 30 wounded, CNN reported. Rebels claimed to have killed several of Gaddafi’s snipers.
Heavy fighting also continued in the east around the city of Ajdabiya, which has been the focus of clashes between rebels and government forces for several days.
In Paris on Wednesday, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron was expected to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a day after their foreign ministers both urged NATO to step up its attacks on Gaddafi’s forces.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday that military intervention in Libya would cease with Gaddafi’s exit, but there was no certainty when that would take place.
“Do not underestimate what is being achieved here,” he told the BBC. “With the air strikes we have conducted, thousands of lives have been saved.”
Other countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have taken less aggressive roles, reflecting contrasts in how the U.N.-mandated mission is viewed, the New York Times said.
“The varying tactics reflect the different ways in which each country in the coalition views the mission, and how tough it has been to corral all the participants into focused attacks,” the paper reported.
Hague, meanwhile, has come under fire for his department’s role in allowing Kusa to travel to Doha. Relatives of victims of the Lockerbie bombing, who wanted the defector to face further questioning over his links to the 1988 attack, have expressed anger.
The families have accused the British government of “betrayal” after officials said he would not be offered immunity from prosecution, but allowed him to depart.
Brian Flynn, of the Victims of Pan Am 103 Incorporated campaign group, said British authorities in allowing Kusa to travel to Doha had granted him status as a peace broker rather than an alleged suspect in an act of terror.
The Guardian newspaper said that British officials expect Kusa to return after the Doha trip. It said they hoped by offering Kusa lenient treatment they will encourage other potential defectors to desert Gaddafi.