China: All sides in Libya 'must be engaged'

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China is ready to seek direct engagement with all sides in Libya, including the powerful opposition, to help resolve the crisis in the North African country through political means, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.

Hong Lei made the remarks at a regular news briefing as a Libyan opposition leader arrived in Beijing for a two-day visit.

 Chairman of the Executive Board of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) Mahmoud Jibril is visiting China from Tuesday to Wednesday, and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is scheduled to meet him to discuss the Libyan situation, Hong said.

It is the first time that a Libyan opposition leader has come to China since the crisis erupted in February.

Hong said the NTC had "already become an important political power in Libya", and that China is poised to engage with it and "other relevant parties" to help find a political solution to the crisis.

Hong said China had no agenda in the dispute, and was supporting the efforts of others, such as the African Union (AU), in resolving it.

The main points of an AU proposal to end the Libyan crisis include an immediate cease-fire, talks between the two sides and the suspension of NATO strikes.

China has not taken sides in the war between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces and the opposition groups now encroaching on Tripoli, and has said its recent meetings with the Libyan government and rebel representatives are part of an effort to encourage a cease-fire and seek an end to the fighting.

Beijing earlier this month hosted Libya's Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi, and China said its door was also open to the NTC.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has always been committed to safeguarding world peace and stability, Hong said.

He said China has been deeply concerned over the Libyan crisis.

"The Libyan crisis has lasted four months, during this period of time the people of Libya have suffered to the fullest extent the chaos caused by war," Hong said, adding that the country's infrastructure has been severely damaged.

The situation "should not be left as it is anymore", he said. "It's time for a political solution."

China's first confirmed contact with Libya's opposition leader took place on June 2 when ambassador to Qatar Zhang Zhiliang met NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Days later, Li Lianhe, a diplomat in Egypt, went to Benghazi in eastern Libya, the opposition's headquarters, where he met Jalil and inspected the humanitarian situation and property of Chinese businesses there.

The moves underscore Beijing's growing role as mediator, experts said.

China is shouldering responsibility to promote a political solution to the crisis in Libya, Yin Gang, research fellow at the West Asian and African Studies Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.

"China upholds the principle that military means cannot solve the Libya crisis. The two sides (the government and the rebels) must sit down and talk," Yin said.

He added that it is necessary for Beijing to contact both sides, especially the NTC, which has become an important political power and would play a significant role in any peace process.

More countries are calling for a solution to the Libyan crisis, He Wenping, director of the African studies department at the same institute as Yin, said.

"But fighting could still last for a while" because of tenacious resistance from Gaddafi's forces, she said.

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