Leading article: A touch of complacency over Libya

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There were plenty of fences to mend in Paris yesterday.

After a series of public irritations – from David Cameron's European veto, to Nicolas Sarkozy's attack on UK "interference", to the scrap over fighter jets for India – the British Prime Minister's eighth official visit to the French capital needed to be an equally public display of affection.

And so it was, with speeches focusing on the close ties between the two countries, backed up by new agreements on shared military headquarters, on building unmanned aircraft and on nuclear energy. But it was Libya that topped the billing.

If it was chance that the Paris summit coincided with celebrations marking one year on from the start of the uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, it was certainly a happy one. Mr Cameron spoke warmly of Mr Sarkozy's leadership of Nato support for the rebels; he was repaid with tributes to his own "decisiveness".

Closer co-operation between Britain and France is to be welcomed on both energy policy and defence. There is much to be gained on both sides. But it would be wise to be rather more circumspect before holding up Libya as an exemplar of success. For all the pride of Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy, the picture on the ground is far from rosy. Five months on from the death of Gaddafi, Libya's National Transitional Council is struggling to disband the violent militias wreaking havoc across the country. More concerning still, the UN judges that as many as 8,000 Gaddafi loyalists are being held by militia groups, while human rights groups point to incontrovertible evidence of torture. Such is the chaos that, according to one poll at least, one in three people would prefer a return to authoritarian rule.

Mr Cameron's official gift to Mr Sarkozy yesterday was a warship shell casing recovered from HMS Liverpool's activities in Libya. For the two European leaders, "mission accomplished" in North Africa has become totemic proof of their friendship. For the Libyan people, the events that started a year ago in Benghazi are far from over.

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