NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Libyan rebels that the alliance will continue bombing forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as long as those forces continue threatening civilians.
Rasmussen was speaking Wednesday in Brussels after meeting a Libyan rebel delegation led by Mahmoud Jibril, who briefed him on the progress of a five-month uprising against Gadhafi's 42-year rule. The NATO chief said the Libyan leader has "lost all legitimacy" and must leave power as part of a "political solution" to the conflict.
NATO forces have been carrying out airstrikes on Gadhafi's security forces since March under a U.N. Security Council mandate to use force to protect Libyan civilians.
The Libyan rebel delegation also received a diplomatic boost from talks in Brussels - with the foreign ministers of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg saying they recognize the rebels as the "legitimate representatives" of the Libyan people.
But the rebels faced criticism from a U.S.-based rights group, which accused them and their supporters of damaging property, looting hospitals and homes, and beating loyalists of Gadhafi in western Libya.
Human Rights Watch called on the rebels to protect civilians and hold their fighters accountable for alleged abuses in the rebel-held towns of al-Awaniya, Rayayinah, Zawiyat al-Bagul and al-Qawalish.
Human Rights Watch said a rebel commander in the area confirmed that abuses had taken place, and that some people have been punished. The group said it also has documented "repeated" attacks by Libyan government forces against civilians in some of the same areas during the past two months, including the use of landmines.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.