Catherine Rama, AFP
Last updated: 30 August, 2011

‘Friends of Libya’ to meet in Paris

Senior officials from around 60 countries will meet in Paris on Thursday as the “friends of Libya” to secure financial and diplomatic support for the fledgling revolutionary regime.

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

Dozens more leaders and foreign ministers will take part in an event at once symbolic and practical: it marks a rebirth after 42 years of Kadhafi’s misrule, but also a chance to urge the unfreezing of Libyan assets.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel will come. The United States and Turkey will be represented by foreign ministers Hillary Clinton and Ahmet Davutoglu.

The biggest question mark hangs over the attitude of the major non-Western powers — China, India, Russia, South Africa and Brazil — who had concerns over the NATO intervention, but will now be asked to help in rebuilding.

On Monday, diplomats at the United Nations in New York said China was dragging its feet over moves to release some Libyan currency frozen in Britain during the final months of strongman Moamer Kadhafi’s rule.

Russia has said it has not been invited to Paris, despite Sarkozy saying that it had. Moscow insists the United Nations must take the lead in dealing with the new authorities in Tripoli.

The African Union has yet to recognise the NTC, partly because of South African concerns over its legitimacy.

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.

France and Britain have invited the head of the NTC and his number two, Mustafa Abdel Jalil and Mahmud Jibril.

“There will be high expectations after the collapse of the regime,” Jibril warned Friday in Istanbul. “The frozen assets must be released for the success of the new government to be established after the Kadhafi regime.”

In order to quickly put in place a stable government and fill the dangerous vacuum left behind by the dictator whose portrait once beamed down from almost every wall in Libya, the National Transitional Council needs cash.

To get it, it 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.

“This time you will see the new Libyan government front and centre of the meeting and this will be their kind of welcoming back into the fold and then setting the terms,” a senior British official said.

Briefing reporters in London last week, he said NTC leaders would set out “how they envisage taking Libya forward and their plans, and also the kind of support they’d like from the international community.”

His comments were echoed by a French official involved in planning the Paris talks, who said: “We’re entering a new era, one of rebuilding. The NTC has announced the timetable. We’ll be there to support them.”

Meeting at the United Nations 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 in funds. The rebels say they need five billion urgently.

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.