In Tripoli, Cameron and Sarkozy gather plaudits while battle rages on


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The Independent Online

The outcome had, for a long time, been far from certain and pockets of fierce loyalist resistance still remain unvanquished. But the civil war has been won by the rebels, and David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy came to Libya yesterday to gather plaudits for enabling the victory to take place.

The British Prime Minister and French President were given a resounding welcome by the public in Libya's capital for helping to deliver them from Muammar Gaddafi before going on to Benghazi. The news of the visit had been tightly controlled, but there was genuine warmth from those who had turned out to watch their arrival.

Nevertheless, there were reminders that the country is not yet free of violence. Rebels made another advance on the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte, coming under rocket fire. The day before, Nato said, it had carried out 123 sorties over the country. And Gaddafi himself was still nowhere to be found.

But in Tripoli, those scenes felt distant. Instead, matters of diplomatic rivalry took precedence. The British team had arrived on a C-130 military transport plane; the French party, much larger with a contingent of riot police, came in a civilian airliner. The cavalcade which swept into town on streets cleared of traffic was a mix of governmental limousines and gun-mounted trucks, with revolutionary fighters, some waving Kalashnikovs, on board.

However there are deep fractures within Libya's revolutionary movement. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the NTC, insisted that victory will not be declared until three remaining regime strongholds have been taken and Col Gaddafi and his coterie captured.

The countdown for elections, however, cannot take place until the NTC announces victory. Saied Mohammed al-Bashti, a rebel officer, warned that patience was running out. "We need to get these unelected people out," he grumbled. "If this does not happen there will be another revolution."