West willing to strike immunity deal with Gaddafi to end conflict


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Britain and other coalition countries would be prepared to allow Muammar Gaddafi to escape prosecution and be granted safe haven as part of a deal to end the conflict in Libya.

Publicly, David Cameron has called for Colonel Gaddafi to face an investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But privately, government officials suggest there is growing support for a deal which would allow him immunity from prosecution and the chance to live out his life in another country if he were to leave Libya and call an end to the fighting.

Yesterday, US Vice-Admiral Bill Gortney told reporters that the coalition had carried out 178 air sorties, most of them strike-related aimed at Gaddafi's military. He added that the US had no confirmed reports of any civilian casualty caused by coalition forces.

But the Libyan government last night claimed that 12 or 13 civilians had been killed in heavy air strikes in the southern desert of Sabha. It insisted that the bombing had hit "neighbourhoods" as well as the civil airport. British officials are in face-to-face contact with rebel forces on the ground in Libya for the first time, while foreign ministers from more than 40 countries gather in London for a conference on the country's future.

The meeting will include Arab and North African nations including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Tunisia. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, will also attend.

Officials hope the summit will endorse plans to set up a smaller "contact group" to lead the international community's negotiations with the Libyan rebels, alongside an announcement on humanitarian aid.

Yesterday, Mr Cameron said British officials were liaising with rebel ground forces in eastern Libya. The team has been in Benghazi for several days and has held talks with the Interim National Transitional Council (INTC), which was set up in the city earlier this month. Yesterday, the INTC was endorsed by Mr Cameron for the first time.