France expels 14 Libyan diplomats loyal to Gadhafi

France on Friday ordered 14 diplomats loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to leave the country within 48 hours, the foreign ministry said.

The 14 worked for Libya's embassy before it was shut about a month ago, said a ministry spokesman on condition of anonymity in line with the official protocol.

The 14 have been deemed "persona non grata," and that they have between 24 to 48 hours to leave France, the ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.

France has recognized Libya's opposition movement, and has been a major backer of a NATO-led military mission aimed to protect civilians from an onslaught by Gadhafi's forces.

At a regular briefing on Friday, ministry spokesman Bernard Valero declined to specify what the diplomats had done to merit the expulsions, and noted that Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations allow a country to order home anyone for any reason.

Meanwhile, after meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Russia's belief that a U.N. Security Council resolution that paved the way for the NATO-led operation "openly and clearly" forbids a possible land operation in Libya.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the "sovereignty, independence and unity" of Libya's territory must be respected.

Russia and China abstained in the Security Council vote and have both voiced concern about civilian casualties and excessive use of force since the operation began. Moscow has expressed worries that NATO's mission could evolve into a ground campaign.

In Rome on Thursday, members from the 22-nation Contact Group on Libya agreed to set up an internationally monitored fund that the rebels can access to provide basic services to the Libyan people. Countries have already pledged $250 million in humanitarian aid to the opposition.

The United States said it would move to free up at least some of the more than $30 billion it has frozen in Libyan assets, while other attendees agreed to start a new fund to supply civilians with food, medicine and even paychecks.

The opposition has outlined a political transition for the country if and when Gadhafi falls, announcing at the conference plans to install an interim government while a constitution is drafted and parliamentary elections held.

The move to bolster the rebels and plot a Gadhafi-free future for Libya came despite a virtual military stalemate on the ground. Since the uprising against Gadhafi broke out in mid-February, the two sides have largely been stalled: A U.S. and now NATO-led bombing campaign launched in mid-March has kept Gadhafi's forces from advancing to the east, but has failed to give the rebels a clear battlefield advantage.

The rebels say they need up to $3 billion in the coming months for military salaries, food, medicine and other supplies. They also say no country had sent the arms that they desperately need.


David Nowak in Moscow, Greg Keller in Paris, and Nicole Winfield and Frances d'Emilio in Rome contributed.