British firms urged to secure Libya contracts

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British firms were today urged by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to head to Libya to secure contracts for its reconstruction.

With the military campaign all but over after the death of Muammar Gaddafi and the defeat of what appears to have been the last pockets of resistance, Mr Hammond said sales directors should be "packing their suitcases" for Libya.



His comments came as Nato prepared to wind down air and sea operations after seven months of air strikes to Snap up protect the civilian population from Gaddafi's forces.



The body of the ousted dictator, who was captured and killed yesterday by forces loyal to the revolutionary government, was today being kept in a meat store in Misrata while the National Transitional Council (NTC) decided what to do with it.



The United Nations called for an investigation into Gaddafi's death amid concerns that he was executed shortly after being captured in his home town of Sirte.



Mr Hammond said the Nato mission - in which British forces have flown 3,010 sorties since March - was now "pretty much complete", although he cautioned that there could be "some little pocket (of resistance) somewhere".



Trade minister Lord Green has met British businesses to discuss potential opportunities in Libya in the wake of the conflict.



There are expectations that the NTC will look favourably on UK firms after Britain's strong military commitment in support of the anti-Gaddafi rebels.



Mr Hammond said: "Of course I would expect British companies to be, even today, British sales directors, practically packing their suitcases and looking to get out to Libya and take part in the reconstruction of that country as soon as they can."



The Defence Secretary said the mission, despite initial misgivings in some quarters when Prime Minister David Cameron committed Britain to it, had been "hugely successful".



"It has given the Libyans the space to liberate their country from a 40-year tyranny. I think we should be enormously proud of what Nato has achieved," he said.



"The RAF has been hugely involved, as has the Navy, in prosecuting this campaign so we have made a very large contribution to this, we have avoided, I think, collectively what would have been a potential humanitarian disaster.



"We know that Colonel Gaddafi was bent on murdering his own people when this operation began back in March of this year and I think we can be very, very satisfied with the outcome of this operation.



"Now we need to support the Libyans to turn the liberation of their country into a successful, stabilisation so that Libya can be a beacon of prosperity and democracy in north Africa going forward."



A Conservative backbencher suggested that oil-rich Libya should now consider paying Britain back for the £300 million action.



In an article for Publicservice.co.uk, Daniel Kawczynski, who chairs the cross-party parliamentary group on Libya, said: "The question that remains is who should ultimately bear this cost? Should the burden fall on those who could be counted on? Or should, in time, Libya repay those who fought with her, and for her?"



He pointed out that Libya was "clearly not...without means" given its natural resources.



"In these difficult economic times, it should not be too much to ask a country with Libya's wealth and resources to pay their share of the gold," he said.



Sir John Jenkins, the new British Ambassador to Tripoli, said he was optimistic for the future of Libya.



"It will not be straightforward, there will certainly be turbulence over the next period," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.



"But I'm pretty optimistic that they are going to make something positive out of all of this."



Stressing the potential for reconciliation after the fighting of recent months, he said: "I think by and large this is a pretty homogeneous country.



"Clearly what happened at Sirte and Bani Walid, the fierceness of the fighting there, will have hardened some attitudes, but one of the distinguishing features not just of Libya but the Middle East as a whole is that you can reconcile."



Calling for an investigation into Gaddafi's death, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it needed to be established whether the former dictator was killed in crossfire or executed after he was captured.



Downing Street said it was a matter for the NTC, although Britain would have preferred to have seen Gaddafi prosecuted.



Two British Tornado jets and an RAF Sentry surveillance aircraft were monitoring the skies over Libya at the time Gaddafi made hgis attempt to flee Sirte, but the Ministry of Defence was unable to say whether it was a UK pilot who spotted the dictator's convoy.



Surveillance intelligence indicated that the convoy was likely to be a command and control group containing senior military leaders and that the occupants of the vehicles were attacking civilians, making them a legitimate target for Nato forces.



There were no weapons fired by the British planes, which were operating as part of a combined mission with other nations in the Nato-led alliance.



It is understood that a US Predator drone shot Hellfire missiles at the line of vehicles, which were then targeted by a second wave of rocket strikes from French Rafale ground attack aircraft.



Fighters of the anti-Gaddafi forces then moved in on the ground and captured the dictator, but what happened after that was "not entirely clear", said the PM's spokesman, adding: "That's something we would leave to the NTC to clarify."



Mr Cameron discussed Libya in a conference call with US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel last night, said Downing Street.



The PM's spokesman said: "The main issue for discussion was the next steps. The key objective now is to ensure that the NTC executes the transition effectively and presses ahead with its plans to stabilise the country.



"Clearly, we will be supporting their efforts on that."

PA

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