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U.S. envoy hails Tripoli leaders, pledges support

Sep 14, 2011, 6:01 a.m.
Jeffrey D. Feltman, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, meets with Mostafa Abdel Jalil (R), Chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council interim government at office of the Islamic Call Society in Tripoli September 14, 2011. REUTERS/Anis Mili

By William Maclean

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A senior U.S. envoy, visiting Tripoli on Wednesday to show support for Libya's new leaders, said they were getting the country's many armed groups under control and would not end up dominated by Islamist factions.

Jeffrey Feltman, an assistant secretary of state who runs policy for the Middle East and North Africa, also said Washington was committed to continuing military operations with NATO as long as they were needed to protect Libyan civilians.

NATO has said it will keep bombing any Gaddafi loyalists who threaten civilians, but says it is not taking an active role in hunting ousted strongman Muammar Gaddafi, who, his spokesman said, was still in Libya organizing his forces to hit back.

In a statement following talks with the head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Feltman said: "We remain encouraged by growing command and control over security and police forces.

"We understand that this is a difficult task. Libya's interim leadership is solidifying the steps and integrating militias under one civilian authority."

Asked later about the strength of Islamist groups in the rebel coalition which overthrew Muammar Gaddafi last month, he said: "We are not concerned that one group will be able to dominate the aftermath of what has been a shared struggle."

He also said he expected the new rulers in Tripoli to "share concerns about terrorism" with Washington. Some senior Islamists among the rebel forces have in the past been allied with enemies of the United States, though they have since welcomed cooperation with the Western military alliance.

In his statement, Feltman also said: "The United States and our international partners have an enduring commitment to supporting the Libyan people as they chart their country's future. This includes working with NATO and our coalition partners to continue operations to protect Libyan civilians until they are no longer under threat."

GADDAFI HOLDING OUT

Feltman's visit to Tripoli, two days after the arrival of Abdel Jalil himself and only three weeks after Gaddafi was put to flight, was a very visible statement of support. He said Washington aimed to reopen a full embassy as soon as possible.

Diplomats from other Western powers who backed February's uprising have visited the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, as well as Tripoli itself in recent days, but Feltman's is the most high profile official visit from abroad.

Compared to other parts of the country, Tripoli has been relatively stable since forces of the NTC overran it on August 23. But NTC fighters backed by NATO are still trying to capture at least three towns held by Gaddafi loyalists.

Gaddafi himself has not been seen in public since June. His fugitive spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, speaking on a satellite phone, told Reuters the 69-year-old leader was still in Libya, in good spirits and gathering his forces for a fightback.

"The leader is in good health, in high morale ... of course he is in Libya," said Ibrahim, who declined to give his own location. "The fight is as far away from the end as the world can imagine. We are still very powerful, our army is still powerful, we have thousands upon thousands of volunteers."

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