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Libya’s foreign minister arrives in UK as rebels retreat

The arrival of Moussa Koussa could prove controversial for the UK which insists they will not offer him immunity. Meanwhile rebels have been pushed back by government forces in the east.

Libyan rebels in a car and a truck with a mounted weapons system leave Ras Lanouf, Libya on Wednesday
Libyan rebels in a car and a truck with a mounted weapons system leave Ras Lanouf, Libya on Wednesday
Image: STR/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 11.35am

LIBYA’S FOREIGN MINISTER Moussa Koussa has arrived in Britain after fleeing his country, saying he was “no longer willing” to work for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Koussa flew in from Tunisia on a non-commercial flight and was questioned by British officials for several hours upon arrival, according to the BBC.

The move comes as Libyan rebels attempting to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime were pushed back along the country’s east coast after they had made gains last weekend with the aid of coalition airstrikes.

Rebels pleaded for more help while a US official said government forces are making themselves harder to target by using civilian “battle wagons” with makeshift armaments instead of tanks.

The rebels had been closing in on the strategic city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown and a bastion of support for the longtime leader, but under heavy shelling they retreated from Bin Jawwad on Tuesday and from the oil port of Ras Lanouf on Wednesday.

Moussa Ibrahim, a Libyan government spokesman in Tripoli, denied that the foreign minister Moussa Koussa has defected saying he was in London on a “diplomatic mission.”

However a British Foreign Office spokesperson said Koussa was resigning and that he no longer wished to work under Gaddafi.

It is hoped his significant knowledge of the Libyan regime may help to bring about its end after 41-years of Gaddafi’s rule.

However, The Daily Telegraph reports that his arrival may present a significant problem for the UK in that Koussa is thought to be the mastermind behind the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 in which killed 270 people.

The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has insisted that Koussa will not be offered any immunity from “British or international justice” but added that the Libyan minister was in a safe place.

The UK Prime Minister’s office said it would be up to the Scottish and Libyan authorities if they wished to pursue Koussa in relation to the plane bombing over the Scottish village 23 years ago.

Meanwhile, the UK and other western powers have kept up the pressure to force Gaddafi out with new air strikes in other parts of Libya.

They also hinted that they may arm the opposition amid intense negotiations behind the scenes to find a country to give haven to Libya’s leader.

It has also been revealed that President Barack Obama has signed orders allowing the US to offer covert support to rebels in the form of CIA secret operations, the Guardian reports.

- additional reporting from AP

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Hugh O'Connell

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