Cameron, Sarkozy milk premature Tripoli triumph

The French president and British PM have visited Tripoli to declare victory over Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and reap the benefits of his fall, but it appears the celebrations are somewhat premature.

Rebel forces in Libya have widely publicized their advance on Colonel Gaddafi's home town of Sirte, one of the last loyalist bastions.

Several thousand opposition fighters, backed by tanks and heavy weapons, have reportedly launched an offensive on the city. 

They got as far as the town’s outskirts, but were met by rocket fire from Gaddafi supporters.

Meanwhile, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited the country along with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, sent a strong message to followers of Libya's old regime to give up the fight.

The British and French leaders have become the first heads of state to visit Libya since the outbreak of the civil conflict in February.

There is little surprise over the move in the light of the French initiative to use military force against the Gaddafi regime and the UK’s active support for the operation. Both countries have not only dispatched their Air Force and Navy to blockade Libya’s coastline and bomb the country’s military installations, but also sent in special forces – France’s Foreign Legion and the UK’s SAS – to train and lead the rebels to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule over Libya.

Now, Cameron and Sarkozy are engaging in political grandstanding as they muscle in on the limelight surrounding the rebels’ hard-won victory. 

Both leaders warned that NATO’s mission against pro-Gaddafi forces will continue as long as they feel it is necessary in what they say is a bid to protect civilians. 

Nonetheless, the timing of the visit appears suspicious. It is clear that Cameron and Sarkozy came to Tripoli to share in rebel celebrations of the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Yet the colonel, contrary to all expectations, is still at large, and his supporters remain numerous, well-armed and showing no sign of surrender. .

There is no hiding the fact that fighting is still in full swing and people are dying in Libya as a result. Even in the officially-conquered capital, Tripoli, the population is pretty much divided. Keeping in mind those hundreds of thousands of assault rifles distributed by Colonel Gaddafi among the population, the risk of a bloodbath in the country is high.   

Today, crowds have turned out to wave the country’s new tricolor flag and thank President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron for what they have done. However in private, they say they have little trust in the new authorities, and suspect that both France and the UK have rushed to Libya to be first in line to carve up the country’s oil fields.