Cameron urges Zuma to back release of Libyan funds

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British Prime Minister David Cameron urged South Africa and its African Union partners Thursday to support the release of assets to help Libya.

Cameron called South African President Jacob Zuma after a British minister expressed "disappointment" at South Africa's decision to block the release of $1.5 billion of Libyan assets frozen in the United States.

Washington is seeking agreement at the United Nations Security Council to unlock the funds to provide humanitarian aid as rebels forces move closer to total victory against leader Moamer Kadhafi's regime.

A statement from Cameron's office said he and Zuma "agreed that Libya now has the opportunity for transition to a peaceful, democratic and inclusive government" and they discussed how the international community "should actively and urgently support this process".

Cameron welcomed South Africa's support for the release of the $500 million of the package destined directly for humanitarian organisations, but urged it and its African Union partners to reach agreement on unblocking other assets at a summit later Thursday.

"The leaders agreed that the African Union needs to take swift decisions at their summit in Addis Ababa today on the unfreezing of further assets," the statement said.

The funds were frozen under UN resolutions after Kadhafi launched a crackdown on the rebels in February.

But South Africa insisted in talks at the UN Wednesday that the Security Council should wait for the AU to decide whether to recognise the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) before approving the US move.

British Defence Minister Liam Fox earlier urged South Africa to reconsider.

"It is very clear what side the Libyan people are on and I think that is what the South African government should respond to, I think there will be huge moral pressure on South Africa," he told BBC radio.

"They wanted the world at one point to stand with them against apartheid.

"I think they now need to stand with the Libyan people, help unfreeze their assets and allow their authorities to get access to the capital they need to rebuild the country and it's disappointing the stance they have taken so far, I hope that even now they will change their minds."

The US has set a Thursday deadline for South Africa to lift a block on releasing the funds, saying that if there was deadlock it would seek a Security Council vote on a resolution demanding the money be made available "as soon as possible".

© 2011 AFP

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