Sarkozy plans visit to Libyan rebel stronghold

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PARIS - French president Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed in principle with Libya's opposition Transitional National Council to travel to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, a top presidential aide said Friday.

Although Sarkozy has informed the opposition group, the timing of the visit and other details need to be worked out and the trip is not imminent, the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sarkozy plans to use a meeting next week with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to discuss ways of freeing up Libyan finances so that rebel forces can access them, the aide said.

A February United Nations resolution imposed an arms embargo on Libya and a travel ban and asset freeze on Gadhafi and members of his family and regime. The Gadhafi government has said about $120 billion of its assets have been frozen worldwide.

The aide said that France and Italy are in favor of freeing up Libyan finances to get funds to the cash-strapped rebels, but European partners are in debate.

France continues to reject taking the further step of arming the rebels, but if other governments were to go ahead with this it would be permitted under existing international resolutions, the aide said.

The aide would not comment on French media reports that Sarkozy would visit Benghazi with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron's office also declined comment.

(AP)