Italy promises aid as Libyan rebel chief visits


Italy will host talks next month on allowing foreign oil sales from Eastern Libya and could provide Libyan rebels with night-vision kit and radars, foreign minister Franco Frattini said on Tuesday.

Speaking after talks with Libyan rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Frattini said a meeting of the international contact group on Libya in Rome early in May would discuss "legal instruments to allow the sale of oil products."

The meeting would also try to find ways of using assets owned by Muammar Gaddafi's regime that have been frozen around the world in order to aid the rebels and would discuss the thorny issue of arming the Libyan rebels, he said.

"We have condemned the violence of the regime in the streets, we have condemned the use of snipers in Tripoli and in the besieged cities. We can't say this is not our problem," Frattini said.

Italy was weighing the possibility of sending "night-vision equipment, radars and technology to block communications," he said.

"We don't have many alternatives. One of the alternatives is the use of ground troops. Italy is not in favour of sending ground troops," he said.

Italy will also treat up to 100 Libyans wounded in the conflict and is planning to send additional medical staff to help the rebels, he added.

Frattini cited Jalil as saying that 10,000 people had been killed and up to 55,000 wounded in the conflict so far.

Jalil, a former justice minister who was critical of abuses under Gaddafi, was in Italy after a visit to Qatar on Monday and was due to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Wednesday, officials said.

Libya was an Italian colony between 1911 and 1942 and had enjoyed close ties with Gaddafi in recent years. Friendly relations between the Libyan leader and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi were particularly controversial.

Initially cautious after the start of the uprising against Gaddafi's regime, Italy's foreign policy gradually evolved into openly calling for him to quit power and it is now taking an active part in military operations.

Jalil is on his first foreign tour in his current role, a trip seen as particularly significant as he is visiting the only three countries — France, Italy and Qatar — that have given official recognition to the rebels.

"Our economic future will involve those who have supported us. There will be friendship and cooperation above all with Italy, France and Qatar," he said.

Jalil was also expected to meet with President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday and was due to meet Berlusconi later in the day.

He was also scheduled to hold talks with representatives of the Catholic charity Sant'Egidio, which is involved in conflict mediation in Africa.

Italy is currently Libya's top trade partner and the two countries signed a treaty in 2008 that paved the way for billions of euros (dollars) in investments in each other's economies, many of which have now been suspended.

Italian energy major ENI is also the top foreign oil producer in Libya.

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