UN says Britain can send $1.6 billion to Libya
The UN's Libya sanctions committee on Tuesday let Britain release $1.6 billion in seized assets to buy emergency aid as UN chief Ban Ki-moon said urgent action was needed to get water to the war-stricken country.
France and Germany are still waiting for a green light to free more than $8.6 billion in assets that they seized as part of UN action against strongman Moamer Kadhafi, who is now on the run, diplomats said.
The UN secretary general appealed to the Security Council to give urgent consideration to requests for money by the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council (NTC).
The money held in Britain is 200 million banknotes with a value of 1.86 billion Libyan dinar, or about $1.6 billion, printed by a British firm.
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said the release "represents another major step forward in getting necessary assistance to the Libyan people, building on the remarkable progress in recent days.
"These banknotes, which were frozen in the UK under UN sanctions, will help address urgent humanitarian needs, instill confidence in the banking sector, pay salaries of key public sector workers and free up liquidity in the economy."
China, a key member of the UN Security Council sanctions committee, lifted its block on Britain's move after the Beijing government gave its approval, diplomats said.
Germany has asked to release about one billion euros ($1.4 billion) in seized assets, and France wants to unfreeze about five billion euros ($7.2 billion) to help buy humanitarian aid and keep essential services going in Libya. Both are still waiting for approval, diplomats said.
The United States was given approval to send about $1.5 billion in seized assets back to Libya last week, after a dispute with South Africa over whether easing UN sanctions implied recognizing the rebels who are fighting Kadhafi.
Ban told a UN Security Council meeting on Libya that with the NTC now "largely" in control of Tripoli and most other major cities, "I think we can all be encouraged by the current trends."
But he added that growing humanitarian shortages in Libya demand "urgent action".
He quoted reports of large caches of medical supplies and food, stockpiled by the Kadhafi government, found over the weekend and hospitals reopening.
But Ban said water supplies are critically short: "An estimated 60 percent of Tripoli's population is without water and sanitation."
UNICEF engineers are trying to repair pumping stations that take water from the mammoth man-made river that supplies the capital, but Ban said that fuel and spare parts were desperately needed.
"Security concerns make the situation precarious at best," Ban told the Security Council.
Donations of food, medicines and other supplies have been sent by the UN and neighboring governments such as Tunisia, Ban said.
"In coming days we will likely be requesting urgent international assistance in this matter," he added.
Ban said it had been "vitally important" for the UN sanctions committee to last week release $1.5 billion held in the United States. The first $110 million has just been allocated, he told envoys.
"Further action will be needed in the coming days, I appeal to the council to be responsive to the requests of the transitional authority for funding," Ban said in a message to governments blocking the release of seized assets.
The UN leader said it was important to get a UN mission into Libya as soon as possible.
He said he was in talks with the rebel government and other world leaders on a UN role that would concentrate on restoring public security, helping national reconciliation and re-establishing state authority and relaunching the economy.
© 2011 AFP