France expels Libyan diplomats

Foreign ministry orders 14 embassy staff loyal to Gaddafi's government to leave the country within two days.

    Gaddafi's government has come under increasing international and diplomatic pressure [AFP]

    France has expelled 14 Libyan diplomats who served the government of Muammar Gaddafi, giving them two days to leave the country.

    The foreign ministry made the announcement on Friday, saying it no longer recognised the group's diplomatic status.

    It accused them of "activities incompatible with the relevant UN resolutions ... and contrary to the protection of Libyan civilians".

    An unnamed French diplomat told the Reuters news agency that the decision to expel them was taken some time ago, but "there was a process to follow".

    "Many of these people were using their status as diplomats as a cover," the diplomat said.

    France and Britain are pressing to toughen a NATO bombing campaign against troops loyal to Gaddafi, Libya's long-time leader, as part of a UN-mandated effort to protect Libyan civilians.

    France was the first foreign power to formally recognise the interim Transitional National Council (TNC), the Benghazi-based leadership of opposition forces fighting Gaddafi's rule.

    In Moscow, the Russian foreign minister spoke out against developments in the way the international community is handling the Libyan crisis, while his visiting Chinese counterpart called for Libyan sovereignty to be respected.

    "As far as the Contact Group is concerned, this is a self-forming group that is increasingly trying to take the lead in setting global policy on Libya," Russia's Sergei Lavrov said during talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, referring to the group of Western and Arab countries which agreed on Thursday to provide Libya's opposition with millions of dollars in non-military aid.

    China's Yang Jiechi said, "We must respect the sovereignty and unity of the Libyan nation."

    Both Russia and China abstained from the UN Security Council vote that authorised military action against the Gaddafi regime, in a move that allowed the measure to pass, in a report issued Friday.

    'Piracy on the high seas'

    Gaddafi's government on Friday hit out at international plans to release frozen Libyan funds to the opposition which controls the east of the country.

    "Libya still, according to the international law, is one sovereign state and any use of the frozen assets, it's like piracy on the high seas," Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said.

    Meanwhile, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the government's two-month siege of Misurata - Libya's third largest city - might amount to a war crime.

    "The scale of the relentless attacks that we have seen by Gaddafi forces to intimidate the residents of Misrata for more than two months is truly horrifying," Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior adviser, said.

    "It shows a total disregard for the lives of ordinary people and is in clear breach of international humanitarian law."

    Aid ships have managed to evacuate some African migrants and fleeing residents, despite heavy shelling of the port by Gaddafi forces.

    But Kaim said the government would keep up its siege of Misurata, claiming the port was being used to reinforce and re-arm western rebels.

    "We will not allow those ships to bring arms to the city and then to evacuate some criminals," he said.

    The regime has repeatedly argued that it is not shelling Misurata, despite daily witness accounts to the contrary from foreign aid workers, journalists, residents and human rights workers.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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