'Friends of Libya' meet in Paris to secure rebel victory

1st September 2011, Comments 0 comments

France hosts a "Friends of Libya" conference on Thursday to allow states that stood by during the uprising that ousted Moamer Kadhafi to belatedly back Tripoli's fledgling revolutionary regime.

Leaders from nations that actively backed Libyan rebels in the six-month war will be joined by senior officials from countries that did not get involved or which even condemned NATO's military intervention under a UN mandate.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain will jointly host the event, welcoming rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) leaders into the international fold.

Leaders, foreign ministers and officials from 60 states will take part in an event at once symbolic and practical: it marks a rebirth after 42 years of Kadhafi's misrule and a chance to urge the unfreezing of Libyan assets.

Kadhafi's money was spread across the world, in accounts and investments. Some 37 billion dollars have been frozen in the United States, 12 billion pounds in Britain and "several billion euros" in France.

With Kadhafi on the run and the NTC taking the reins, rebels say they need five billion dollars to set up a stable government and fill the vacuum left by a dictator whose portrait once figured on countless Libyan walls.

US-based group Human Rights Watch called for the protection of civilians, accountability for rights abuses during Kadhafi's rule, and building a rights-respecting state to be high on the Paris meeting's agenda.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend the event.

The United States and Turkey will be represented by foreign ministers Hillary Clinton and Ahmet Davutoglu.

China and Russia -- which balked at the NATO air strikes carried out to protect Libyan civilians under the UN mandate but which will now be asked to help in rebuilding the north African country -- are both sending envoys.

Russia, which refused to join the international Contact Group on Libya during the conflict and condemned the Western air campaign, said it would send its envoy for Africa but did not say if he would be its representative.

Moscow insists the United Nations must take the lead in dealing with the new authorities in Tripoli.

China, which like Russia has not officially recognised the rebel NTC, said it was sending a vice-minister to "observe" the Paris conference.

Diplomats at the United Nations in New York said on Monday that Beijing was dragging its feet over moves to release some Libyan currency frozen in Britain during the final months of Kadhafi's rule.

The African Union has yet to recognise the NTC, partly because of concerns over its legitimacy from South Africa, which declined France's invitation to the conference without saying why.

Many of Libya's Arab neighbours are expected to attend, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- which took part in the coalition campaign against Kadhafi -- and Egypt and Jordan.

The foreign minister of Algeria, which has tense relations with the Libyan rebels, was to represent his country which has given refuge to Kadhafi's wife, two sons and a daughter.

The NTC is relying on its foreign friends -- led by Britain, France and the United States -- to unblock the tens of billions of dollars in assets once controlled abroad by the ousted regime and now frozen by UN decree.

Meeting at the UN last week, diplomats unblocked 1.5 billion dollars in Libyan cash frozen in US accounts, a partial success they hope to repeat for bigger sums in the days and weeks to come.

Earlier, in Istanbul, the 28 countries and seven international bodies of the Libya Contact Group had taken measures to unblock around 2.5 billion dollars.

© 2011 AFP

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