France ready to talk about arming Libyan rebels

LONDON Tue Mar 29, 2011 3:06pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - France said it was ready to discuss arming Libyan rebels with its coalition partners, although this was not part of the United Nations mandate, its foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Speaking after a meeting in London of foreign ministers and international organisations to discuss post-Muammar Gaddafi Libya, Alain Juppe said a new political contact group that had been created comprised of about 20 countries and organisations and would meet next in Qatar, then Italy.

"I remind you it is not part of the U.N. resolution -- which France sticks to -- but we are ready to discuss it (arming) with our partners," Juppe told reporters.

France has been at the forefront of a push to intervene in Libya. It was the first to strike against Gaddafi's forces.

On whether Gaddafi should go into exile, Juppe did not directly answer the question, but said there was no future for the Libyan leader in his country.

"It's up to the Libyans to get rid of him ... to choose their future and certainly not the international coalition," Juppe said. "(Exile) is not something we talked about."

An Italian source told Reuters earlier on Tuesday the best solution to the crisis would be for Gaddafi to go into exile, but only the African Union (AU) could persuade him to do so.

The AU did not send a representative to the talks in London because of disagreements among its members, Juppe said, adding that he hoped it would decide to join the contact group.

"We regret that it wasn't present and tried everything to convince it, but there wasn't consensus among African states."

Juppe, who met three members of the rebels' Libyan National Council in London, said a "lasting" solution to Libya could only be achieved through a political process and suggested that representatives of civil society and officials within Gaddafi's entourage should be part of that process.

"We ask them to drop him, because there is no future for Gaddafi in Libya. The U.N. (resolution) does not talk about removing him, but the majority of the coalition believes that he must go."

Juppe said the Libyan political contact group would include about 15 countries and five other organisations.

"We're not there to carry out war, but to protect the civilians," he said.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich and Elizabeth Piper)