Hague calls for alliance to step up efforts to destroy regime's weapons

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Britain and France yesterday echoed criticism by Libyan rebels and suggested that Nato military chiefs were being too slow to destroy Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's military hardware.

Speaking on the eve of a European Union foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said alliance members must "maintain and intensify" efforts to disarm forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.

Earlier, the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, in the first overt sign of tensions within the anti-Gaddafi coalition, told a French radio station that Nato had failed "sufficiently" to destroy Tripoli's heavy weapons.

He said that, in a series of high-level meetings in the next three days, he would press for more aggressive air raids by Nato, especially around the besieged city of Misrata, east of Tripoli.

Mr Juppé's comments reflect, in part, residual French annoyance at being forced to cede control of military operations to Nato last month. They also suggest Mr Juppé's opposition to President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to take France back into the military command of Nato three years ago. But French officials said that Mr Juppé was also reflecting genuine concern in Britain, as well as France, that the Nato-led air operations were proving too passive and too slow to react to the situation on the ground. Libyan rebel leaders also complained last week that the air raids on Colonel Gaddafi's forces had become less effective since Nato took command.

French officials said Paris was worried that the conflict had become a deadlock which could not be solved politically or militarily.

"Nato wanted to take over military command of the [Libyan] operations and we went along with that," Mr Juppé told the radio station France Info yesterday morning. "Now it must properly fulfil its role in preventing Gaddafi from using his heavy weapons against the civilian population."

Asked if Nato wasn't already doing that, Mr Juppé replied, "Not sufficiently". Nato made no immediate official comment on British and French remarks. Alliance sources suggested that the criticism was unfair. Mark van Uhm, a Dutch general involved in the Nato operation, said yesterday: "I think, with the assets we have, we're doing a great job."

Meanwhile, ministers were accused of allowing Britain to become a "transit lounge for alleged war criminals" following the disclosure that the Libyan defector Musa Kusa had been allowed to leave the country.

The Foreign Office confirmed that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's former right-hand man was travelling to the Gulf state of Qatar ahead of international talks there tomorrow on Libya.

A spokeswoman said that Mr Kusa – an ex-intelligence chief who has been linked to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing – was "free to come and go" from the UK as he wished. However, the Conservative MP Robert Halfon said the Government was repeating the mistakes made over the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

"Many people will be very anxious that Britain is being used as a transit lounge for alleged war criminals," he said. "We should not release those people associated with Gaddafi or let them out of the UK until they have faced the full course of the law."

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