William Hague in Libya for talks with rebel chiefs

FOREIGN Secretary William Hague held talks in Libya with rebel leaders yesterday as the UK escalated its military operations with air strikes by combat helicopters.

Hague made an unannounced visit to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to witness the results of months of brutal repression by forces loyal to Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Among the places he visited with International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was a medical centre, where they met some of those wounded in the conflict.

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Mitchell announced a 182,216 package to help clear landmines that have already seriously injured hundreds since the uprising began in February.

Top of Hague's agenda was discussions with the chairman of the interim National Transitional Council, Abdul Jalil, about his "political roadmap".

The council is recognised by the UK as the legitimate post-Gaddafi government and has been given significant non-military assistance by the British government.

Ministers stressed the importance of "developing plans for a competent, inclusive and transparent administration that includes clear civilian control of military and regional representation".

They also laid a wreath at Commonwealth War Graves, met citizens in the city's Freedom Square and talked with leading civil society groups as well as humanitarian bodies. "We are here today for one principal reason: to show our support for the Libyan people," Hague said.