Russia prepares to host Libya's rebels

AFP , Monday 23 May 2011

Lavrov is due to meet with Libya's rebels as Moscow seeks to position itself as a mediator in the conflict in the north African country

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov told reporters he would be holding talks with National Transitional Council (NTC) representative Abdel-Rahman Shalgam, a former Tripoli envoy to the United Nations who has broken ties with the Muamer Gaddafi government.

The meeting comes less than a week after Russia hosted a close Gaddafi ally and represents a new push by Moscow to negotiate an end to a Western military intervention it has criticised as excessive and in contravention of international law.

"We are trying to promote an immediate end to the bloodshed, an immediate end to the military activities," Lavrov told reporters ahead of the meeting.

"We are convinced that a ceasefire, reconciliation and dialogue, an agreement ... are unavoidable no matter what. That is how things should end, and the sooner the better."

Lavrov added that the peace talks should represent "all the political forces, all the tribes in Libya."

The delegation from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi had initially been due to arrive in Moscow on Wednesday but delayed the visit for "technical" reasons.

A day earlier, Moscow had hosted Gaddafi's representative Muhammad Ahmed al-Sharif, who serves as general secretary of the World Islamic Call Society, the Libya-based group founded by the Libyan leader.

The Russian foreign ministry has claimed it does not seek to play the role of official mediator in the conflict.

But if Russia manages to nudge the two sides toward dialogue it would be a tremendous achievement for a country that supplies arms to Arab states but which has seen its diplomatic sway in the region wane in recent years.

In March, Moscow abstained from the UN resolution effectively authorising the use of international force to protect Libya's civilian population from Gaddafi's forces.
Russia still recognises the Tripoli government and has repeatedly accused the West of taking sides in the conflict in violation of the UN resolution.

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