Nations pledge $1 billion for Qaddafi foes, plan for a Libya without him
Donor countries pledged more aid for Libya's opposition council, during a meeting Thursday. But earlier pledges have not been met, and opposition leaders are pushing hard for access to Libya's frozen assets.
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The Abu Dhabi conference, the third meeting of the international Libya Contact Group, focused on two main themes: short-term humanitarian needs in the conflict-torn North African country and long-term planning for what attendees agreed will be a post-Qaddafi Libya.
As intense fighting continued on the ground between Libyan rebels and forces loyal to leader Muammar Qaddafi, representatives of Libya’s Transitional National Council responded to the pledges of support with a wait-and-see stance. Representatives of the TNC, which sees itself as the legitimate interim government of a post-Qaddafi Libya, told the conference that Libyans would start to starve to death if $4 billion in food, fuel, and other essentials is not forthcoming.
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TNC representatives also expressed frustration about nondelivery of earlier pledges. “Our people are dying,” the TNC’s finance minister, Ali Tarhouni, told reporters at the meeting, according to the Associated Press. “It’s been almost four months now and nothing has materialized so far.”
Contact group members, including the US, focused more on the longer view of Libya’s needs once Qaddafi is chased from power – as they insisted he will be.
“Time is on our side, but we know we must sustain the pressure,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in prepared remarks to the conference. “Qaddafi’s days are numbered,” she said, adding that the US and other international partners are working “to plan for the inevitable: a post-Qaddafi Libya.”
Secretary Clinton suggested after the conference that contacts between “people close to Qaddafi” and some countries she refused to name point to a readiness to negotiate the Libyan leader’s departure from power. Speaking with reporters, Clinton said she saw a “potential for a transition” in the ongoing contacts, although she added that she could not predict if Qaddafi would accept the negotiated terms.
Part of the Libyan opposition’s frustrations stem from what it sees as the glacial pace at which countries are releasing parts of the Libyan assets they hold. The US, for example, holds more than $30 billion in Libyan assets, but on Thursday Clinton announced only $26.5 million in US humanitarian relief.
US officials accompanying Clinton noted that legislation to allow for the release of some Libyan assets to the opposition is working its way through Congress. In the meantime, the relief aid announced Thursday brings to about $80 million the total for US assistance, other than the approximately $1 billion the Pentagon has spent for the US contribution to NATO’s military mission in Libya.
Libyan representatives told the conference that their extended hand was not that of a mendicant, but more that of a bank depositor simply asking to withdraw some funds.