Italy backs Libya rebels, dismisses Gaddafi message

ROME (Reuters) – Italy dismissed feelers put out by Muammar Gaddafi for discussions to end the fighting in Libya and threw its weight behind the rebel council, saying on Monday it was the only group that could speak for the country.

Speaking after a meeting with Ali Essawi, a member of the Libyan rebel council with responsibility for foreign affairs, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome was giving its backing to the rebels.

“We have decided to recognize the council as the only political, legitimate interlocutor to represent Libya, he told reporters.

The comments were the clearest sign yet from Italy, the former colonial power in Libya and previously Gaddafi’s closest friend in Europe, that it now fully backs the Transitional National Council, the rebel group that has coalesced out of disparate anti-Gaddafi forces.

Frattini said he had spoken to officials in Greece after Deputy Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi flew there to discuss an end to the fighting in Libya and said the proposals from Gaddafi’s government were “not credible.”

“The regime of Tripoli is sending people to some countries — to Greece, to Malta, sending people to make proposals. These proposals are not credible,” he said.

He said he had spoken to the Greek foreign minister who said Gaddafi’s envoy had pledged to respect a ceasfire.

“But nothing was said about the departure of Gaddafi, which is one of the conditions, so it is not possible to accept this point of view,” he said.

Frattini said Gaddafi was not an acceptable interlocutor for the world community and a divided Libya was also not acceptable. He repeated western demands that he leave immediately.

“A solution for the future of Libya has a pre-condition — that Gaddafi’s regime leaves and is out and that Gaddafi himself and his family leave the country,” he said.

Speaking alongside Frattini, Ali Essawi sought to reassure his hosts that companies including oil giant Eni, one of the biggest foreign producers in Libya, would not be penalized by a future rebel government.

He said the legitimate rights of foreigners and foreign companies in Libya would be respected.

He also said proposals for some form of transitional government headed by one of Gaddafi’s sons was “not an option.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

Italy backs Libya rebels, dismisses Gaddafi message