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Hague in talks with Libyan rebels

Foreign Secretary William Hague has held talks in Libya with rebel leaders as the UK escalated its military operations with air strikes by combat helicopters.

Mr Hague made an unannounced visit to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to witness at first hand the results of months of brutal repression by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

Among the places he visited with International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was a medical centre where they met some of those wounded in the conflict.

And Mr Mitchell announced a £182,216 package to help clear landmines which have already seriously injured hundreds since the uprising began in February.

Top of Mr Hague's agenda were discussions with the chairman of the interim National Transitional Council (NTC), Abdul Jalil, about his "political roadmap". The Council is recognised by the UK as the legitimate post-Gaddafi government and has been given significant non-military assistance by the British Government.

Ministers stressed the importance of "developing plans for a competent, inclusive and transparent administration that includes clear civilian control of military and regional representation".

"We are here today for one principal reason: to show our support for the Libyan people and for the National Transitional Council, the legitimate representative of the Libyan people," Hague said. "We are here together as part of a coordinated and strategic approach to Libya - ensuring that our military, diplomatic and development actions are aligned."

Renewing calls on Gaddafi to go, he said the dictator was "isolated internationally and domestically" and "continues to abuse human rights without mercy or compunction".

Their ministers' arrival was announced just hours after two Army Air Squadron Apaches came under fire as they completed the first helicopter mission of the Nato-led conflict. The Ministry of Defence said they destroyed a radar installation and a military checkpoint near Brega overnight - deploying Hellfire missiles and 30mm cannon.

Both returned safely to the Royal Navy helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, which is stationed off the Libyan coast. RAF ground attack aircraft also destroyed another military installation in the same area and successfully attacked two ammunition bunkers at the large Waddan depot in central Libya.

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