France first to recognise Libyan rebels as "legitimate representatives of the people"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flag of the former Kingdom of Libya, which the National Transitional Council and the Libyan opposition in general has adopted as their flag.

France became the first country to formally recognize a newly formed Libyan opposition council as the "legitimate representative of the Libyan people." The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday it will send ambassadors to the rebel stronghold in Benghazi, and in return the Libyan opposition council will set up an embassy in Paris.

The decision was made after President Sarkozy met with two representatives of the opposition group, the National Transitional Council, in Paris. Mustafa Gheriani, a representative for the Libyan opposition, said he expected other EU members to follow Sarkozy's lead. Other EU members expressed uneasiness, and declined to meet with the two representatives.

Although the EU has approved tighter sanctions in response to Muammar Gaddafi's bloody crackdown on the opposition, EU members held back from endorsing a specific opposition group. Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, whose government still maintains an embassy in Tripoli, cautioned, "There is not yet enough clarity about these opposition groups in and around Benghazi". Baroness Ashton, spokesman for the EU foreign affairs chief, stated: "We cannot unilaterally rush into recognising groups." Other members expressed the need for the EU to speak in a unified voice.

Contact between EU officials and opposition leaders is occurring. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had spoken by telephone with Mahmoud Jabril, special envoy of the Libyan Transitional National Council, before he left for NATO talks in Brussels on the Libyan situation. The talks planned to include a discussion of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she plans to meet with Libyan opposition members on her trip to Egypt and Tunisia next week.