Post-Gaddafi Libya hails Cameron and Sarkozy as they visit key cities
THEY came in triumph, after a bold and unlikely victory. The only thing they were not bold enough to do was claim it.
David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy could not have asked for more on Thursday as they toured Tripoli and Benghazi, the cities they decided at great political risk to liberate from the grip of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi six months ago.
In Tripoli's main hospital, doctors climbed over each other to touch them.
In Benghazi, babies are being named after the French president. "My wife was about to give birth on March 19 and Gaddafi was coming to kill us all," said Mustafa, father of Sarkozy Bosen. "Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy decided to save my son's life so when he was born on March 21 we named him Sarkozy and I have brought him here today to thank them both."
As the Prime Minister took to a podium to address crowds in Liberation Square, which not long ago cowered under Gaddafi's bombardment, they chanted a greeting: "Thank you Cam-Ron. Thank You Cam-Ron."
But both leaders are aware of law and precedent. The law -- the United Nations Security Council resolutions they promoted -- says they are not the liberators of Libya, and that the bombers which destroyed tanks and militias and cleared paths for the rebel armies were just protecting civilians.
The precedents are the memories of President George W Bush claiming "mission accomplished" in Iraq in 2003, and Tony Blair's "Kosovo moment", his popular acclaim at the end of the Balkans war which paved the way for the sense of invincibility and mission that so tarnished the second half of his decade in office. And so the leaders who drove Europe and NATO into one of the least predicted wars in modern history could only dole out the tributes, even as the domestic television cameras for which their visit was largely arranged focused on those they received.
"It is great to be here in free Benghazi, and free Libya," Mr Cameron said. "Your city was an inspiration to the world as you threw off the dictator and chose freedom. People in Britain salute your courage."
Mr Sarkozy was similarly grandiloquent, yet self-effacing about the near certainty that without the French air raids which destroyed the army advancing on the city in March, it would have fallen and the revolution collapsed.
"You wanted peace, you wanted liberty, you want economic progress. France, Great Britain and Europe will be on the side of the Libyan people," he said.
The two leaders arrived in Tripoli on Thursday by separate jets at Mitiga Airport, a former US airbase, and travelled in convoy to the city's main hospital to meet war victims and those caring for them.
Mr Cameron later promised to provide 50 beds in specialist hospitals at home to fit prosthetic limbs and provide rehabilitation -- though Libya would be paying, he added, aware that the costs of the military operation have not been universally popular at a time of cuts.
At a press conference with the provisional president and prime minister, Mustafa Abdul Jalil and Mahmoud Jibril, he outlined other aid: money for removing mines and policing and help in finding the vast stockpiles of weaponry that have gone missing, including surface-to-air missiles.
Mr Cameron's spokesperson said a new UN resolution was being drafted to lift the arms embargo on Libya, establish a UN mission in Tripoli, allow for a gradual release of assets overseas, and remove the no-fly zone. She also confirmed that the Foreign Office was relaxing advice which warned against any travel to Libya, saying that "essential" visits could be made to the main liberated areas, including Tripoli and Benghazi.
Mr Cameron was noticeably happy to play second fiddle to Mr Sarkozy in Tripoli. Libyans assign first place in their list of saviours to France, something reflected in the thanks offered by Mr Jalil.
"France was in the forefront to strike Gaddafi forces and prevent a massacre in Benghazi," he said, but added that Britain had played an "increasingly important role".As Mr Cameron kept himself to an admission that he was "proud of the role Britain played in helping", Mr Sarkozy took in the sweep of history.
"People all over the world who wish to throw off the chains that bind them can know France will stand behind you," he said.
Libya's leaders are fully aware of the ambiguity of the French and British positions, particularly as countries which once curried favour with the Gaddafi regime, but made clear there would be rewards.
Mr Jalil said contracts would be honoured -- after vetting for prior corrupt practices, a warning that will send a shudder through some boardrooms -- but that when it came to new ones, favours would be returned. It was a message Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy no doubt wanted to hear, but perhaps not quite so publicly.
Libya may be rich in oil, and economic times hard, but at a time like this they wanted to bask in praise, not ask for bailouts. (© The Daily Telegraph)