Britain pushes bid to choke off Kadhafi oil billions

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British Prime Minister David Cameron urged his EU partners Friday to step up sanctions and choke off the oil billions sustaining strongman Moamer Kadhafi's "horrors" in Libya.

Cameron promoted the idea of a further squeeze on financial assets after the European Union froze five state vehicles including an overseas investment fund holding billions in assets and investments said to be under Kadhafi's family control.

The Conservative premier said "consideration is being given" by EU leaders, after Friday's emergency summit on Libya in Brussels, to moves that could deprive Kadhafi of funds for his battle to win back rebel territory.

"The point was made very powerfully by Cathy Ashton (the EU's foreign affairs chief) that this regime is still in receipt of a huge amount of money through the oil.

"We do need to look at that," Cameron said as the EU awaits international developments in the region and at the United Nations before deciding whether to back any military intervention in the north African country.

Cameron warned it would be a very "complicated" job identifying money flows, "as many of the oil fields are in rebel-held territory" -- although Kadhafi fighters recaptured the key oil town of Ras Lanuf on Thursday.

"But it's one the international community needs to get right," he stressed.

The foreign minister of current EU chair Hungary, Janos Martonyi, made a similar call on Friday, saying "further sanctions are not being ruled out, in particular a freeze of the assets of oil and gas producing and exporting companies."

EU officials are said to be looking at the possibility of setting up a system whereby Libya's oil revenues are not paid to Tripoli but held in an escrow account until the crisis is resolved.

Cameron said Britain had itself frozen a total of £12 billion (14 billion euros, $19 billion).

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's push towards more direct action on Libya has left other leading EU nations "sceptical," in the words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The British leader contented himself with saying that "good progress" had been made in the UN, EU and NATO in setting the ground-rules for responding to "barbaric acts -- with Kadhafi brutally repressing a popular uprising led by his own people, and flagrantly ignoring the will of the international community."

He said Kadhafi "was implicated in the biggest mass murder ever on British soil," the bombing of Pan AM Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland on December 21, 1988 that killed 270 people, most of them Americans.

Cameron's predecessors Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have long struggled with accusations of a so-called 'deal in the desert' which opened up juicy energy contracts to London in exchange for pressure on devolved Scotland to release the man convicted of that atrocity, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, from a jail near Glasgow.

Warning there was a risk of creating "a failed pariah state," which would end up pushing many more people across the Mediterranean toward Europe, Cameron spoke of a Kadhafi "rampage, waging war on his own people... We simply don't know how bad this could get.

"All horrors lie hidden in the Libyan desert."

© 2011 AFP

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