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Nato Ends Mission In Libya After Seven Months

31/10/2011 13:18 GMT | Updated 31/12/2011 10:12 GMT

Nato will end its mission in Libya at midnight on 31 October after almost exactly seven months upholding a no-fly zone and naval blockade over the country .

The military alliance declared the mission, during which the former leader Colonel Gaddafi was toppled from power, captured and killed, as "one of the most successful" in its history.

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen travelled to Libya on Monday to mark the end of the operation, where he said that the 28-nation alliance has fulfilled its mandate.

"We fulfilled the United Nations mandate to the letter," he said in a press conference.

"Libya is finally free. From Benghazi to Brega, from Misrata to the Nafusa mountains and Tripoli. Your courage, determination and sacrifice have transformed this country and helped change the region."

"At midnight tonight, a successful chapter in NATO's history is coming to an end. But you have already started writing a new chapter in the history of Libya. A new Libya, based on freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and reconciliation."

Rasmussen also expressed the hope that a democratic Libya can join the circle of NATO partners "one day soon" if desired by the Libyan people.

On Friday Rasmussen had called the mission "one of the most successful in Nato history".

A UN security council resolution closed the mandate authorising military action last week, despite the claims by interim National Transitional Council chair Mustafa Abdel Jalil that Nato's help would be needed until the end of the year.

Nato however decided that civilians would be safe against pro-Gaddafi fighters following the former leader's death on 20 October and the fall of his last remaining stronghold of Sirte.

NTC officials have now suggested that Nato may offer assistance in terms of training troops, managing air space and controlling Libya's borders.

Meanwhile outgoing NTC prime minister Libya's interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril confirmed on Sunday that chemical weapons were present in Libya, adding that foreign inspectors would remove them from the country.

"We would like to assure you that the new Libya will be a peaceful Libya and that it is in our interest to have no weapons in Libya," he told reporters from the Associated Press.

Nato initially launched its mission to protect civilians in the anti-Gaddafi stronghold of Benghazi, where the leader was attempting to send government artillery and tanks to put down disturbances.

Its mission followed a series of initial strikes by the United States, Britain and France which began on 19 March.

After weeks of apparent stalemate Nato's overwhelming superiority in numbers and arms forced Gaddafi into retreat, with the rebels taking the capital Tripoli in August.

When Gaddafi attempted to escape Sirte in a convoy on 20 October it was a Nato strike that led to his capture and killing at the hands of NTC fighters.

Joined by Arab partners Qatar and United Arab Emirates, the Nato allies flew 26,000 sorties and destroyed almost 6,000 targets in Libya.