Libya conflict 'nearing conclusion'
Published 13/10/2011 | 11:02
The conflict in Libya appears to be drawing to a conclusion as government forces close in on the last remaining major stronghold of fighters loyal to ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the fall of Sirte - Gaddafi's home town - was "very close" and may bring the fighting to an end more than six months after British forces began air strikes to protect civilians.
While the Libyan capital Tripoli fell in August, loyalists to the former regime have continued to hold out in Sirte against the forces of the West-backed National Transitional Council (NTC).
"We are getting very close to the fall of Sirte, which I think may bring the Libyan conflict to a close," Dr Fox said after a meeting of the National Security Council.
Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed later in the Commons, however, that not all Libyans were yet safe from attack and UK forces would remain as long as needed.
He told MPs the NTC had "consolidated its hold on the vast majority of Libya's territory".
"The remaining Gaddafi supporters are concentrated in Bani Walid and in Sirte, where there has been intense fighting," Mr Hague said.
"The NTC has said that it aims to declare the liberation of Libya once Sirte has fallen, to move swiftly to form a transitional government within 30 days and to hold elections for a constitutional assembly within the following eight months."
He added: "Last week, Nato agreed that the positive trend in Libya is irreversible but that not all Libya's population is yet safe from attack. We will continue operations to enforce UNSCR 1973 for as long as is necessary at the request of the NTC."
Amid reports of human rights abuses, Downing Street said that Britain's special representative in Tripoli was to reiterate to the NTC that "they need to deliver on their commitment to hold all people who commit human rights abuses to account".