William Hague suggests Libya rebel funding

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An international fund could be set up to provide financial support for rebels trying to overthrow Col Gaddafi in Libya, the foreign secretary has said.

William Hague has co-chaired a meeting of the international contact group on Libya in Qatar.

It is to look at a "temporary financial mechanism" for the interim national council-controlled areas of Libya.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said the UK has decided to provide body armour to opposition forces in the country.

The so-called non-lethal aid would see the rebels sent 1,000 sets of armour from surplus UK defence stocks, in addition to 100 satellite telephones already supplied.

Speaking in Paris ahead of a meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace, David Cameron said Britain and France would "make sure we are leaving no stone unturned in doing everything we can to enforce the UN resolution and protect civilians".

He added: "I think we should be helping the opposition groups because they want a democratic Libya, they want a future for that country."

The prime minister said Nato and British warplanes were helping to ensure Misrata had not fallen to Gaddafi's forces and had destroyed Gaddafi tanks, vehicles and artillery pieces.

The Qatar talks followed weeks of unrest as rebels seek to topple Col Gaddafi's regime.

Representatives of the rebels met the newly-formed "contact group" on Libya which includes European powers, the US, allies from the Middle East and a number of international organisations.

The group called for Col Gaddafi to stand down as leader, in a final statement read out by Qatar's crown prince.

It said it "affirmed that Gaddafi's regime has lost all legitimacy and he should leave and allow the Libyan people to decide their future".

However, divisions emerged with the Germans saying there was no military solution to the Libyan crisis, while other nations began pushing for the rebels to be given weapons.

Speaking in his capacity as co-chair before the meeting, Mr Hague set out what he hoped could be achieved.

"I hope we will agree to endorse the principles set out by the interim national council for a political process leading to a democratic Libya," he told delegates.

The foreign secretary said: "We should also move forward quickly to ensure that nations wishing to support the interim national council in meeting its public sector costs can do so in a transparent manner.

"So I hope we can agree to set up a temporary financial mechanism in the region for the benefit of the interim national council-controlled areas of Libya."

'Thousands saved'

The Qatar meeting coincided with a worsening humanitarian crisis in the rebel-held city of Misrata, where pro-Gaddafi forces have continued to launch fresh attacks.

Misrata, the last rebel-held area in the west, has been under siege for more than six weeks, with rights groups warning of a shortage of food and medical supplies.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that an RAF Typhoon had carried out its first attack on Col Gaddafi's forces.

A spokesman said the fighter, patrolling with an RAF Tornado GR4, hit two Libyan T72 main battle tanks with laser-guided Paveway II bombs near Misrata.

Earlier, Mr Hague told the BBC it was not possible to predict when the operation would end but said air strikes "saved thousands of lives" and Col Muammar Gaddafi's rule "has no future".

'Own volition'

Speaking on his way to the talks, Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Are we able to say which week these things will come to an end? Of course not, because it is a fast-moving and unpredictable situation."

"Thousands of lives have been saved in places like Benghazi and possibly in Misrata," he said.

"We would now be looking at a pariah state completely under the control of Col Gaddafi, destabilising an already unstable Middle East, if we had not taken the action we have taken."

The foreign secretary also defended the decision to let former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa travel to the summit.

Mr Koussa is a former head of Libyan intelligence and has been accused of being involved in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The foreign secretary said: "He is not detained; he came here of his own volition. If he was under arrest, he wouldn't be allowed to leave."

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