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Rebels deny contacts with Gadhafi as NATO vows to keep bombing regime forces
BRUSSELS (AP) ' A Libyan opposition leader denied Wednesday that the rebels are negotiating with Moammar Gadhafi's regime to find a way to end the conflict.
"All this talk about negotiations taking place between the regime and the National Transitional Council are totally false claims," said Mahmoud Jibril, the rebels' diplomatic chief. The National Transitional Council is a political body created by the rebels.
Jibril was referring to comments Tuesday by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon about efforts initiated by Russia and the African Union to mediate between the rebels and the regime. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, citing Libyan government emissaries, said Gadhafi was prepared to leave power.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department also said it was dealing with envoys claiming to be Gadhafi's representatives.
But Jibril dismissed the significance of such contacts.
"To my knowledge still there is no coherent, comprehensive political initiative on the table," Jibril said after meeting Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere.
In Brussels on Wednesday, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg recognized the National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
Earlier Wednesday, a delegation from the Libyan opposition held talks with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the North Atlantic Council, the military alliance's governing body.
Fogh Rasmussen said NATO would continue its bombing campaign in Libya as long as Gadhafi's forces threaten civilians.
"Gadhafi's forces are still threatening innocent people," Fogh Rasmussen said after the meeting. "And as long as that threat continues, we must continue to deal with it."
Protests against the Libyan leader's 42-year rule broke out in March, prompting a fierce government crackdown. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing force to protect the lives of civilians, and a U.S.-led international coalition began air strikes on Gadhafi's military sites in mid-March.
When NATO assumed command of the operation on March 31, the alliance expected that a sudden, sharp blow would quickly persuade Gadhafi to give up power. But, while the bombing campaign has managed to halt Gadhafi's forces and prevent the fall of opposition-held cities such as Benghazi and Misrata, it has not been able to dislodge his regime.
The rebels have been seeking more close air support to open the way for an advance on Tripoli, the country's capital.
Jibril will also meet senior European Union officials, including Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. In May, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton extended de facto recognition to the transitional council by opening a diplomatic office in Benghazi and pledging support for a democratic Libya.
Sandra Hodzic in Brussels contributed to this report.