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At Libya summit in Paris, a bid for new relationship with North Africa

A Libya summit convening this evening will target the National Transitional Council's governing and financial needs. French and British hosts are keen to avoid any echoes of past European colonialism.

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“The NATO countries will get their money back, and much more. They know this,” says Paris-based Middle East expert Karim Emile Bitar. “The danger is an Iraq-style messy transition … massive corruption, mysterious deals, unaccountable contractors.”

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The NTC has requested an immediate release of $5 billion in frozen assets to pay for needs ranging from payroll to food and humanitarian aid. The UN has given a green light for the release of some $1.6 billion in the UK and some $1.5 billion in the US. Canada announced it is readying a similar amount and France wants to unfreeze about $2 billion by the end of the week, according to Le Figaro. Germany is waiting on the UN sanctions committee for a release of $1.4 billion.

Reports today from Elysées Palace officials suggest that France desires to delay a new UN resolution canceling sanctions and allowing a complete unfreezing of assets, arguing that airstrikes conducted under previous Resolution 1973 are still under way.

Libya will be forming a new governing structure over the top of its old despotic structures, analysts say. The ideal balance for the international community is to assist with new civil structures, but without colonial-style meddling or salacious profiteering. UN agencies on the ground have started with aid. But prominent groups from the two Libyan poles of Tripoli and Benghazi (see map) will be urged to cooperate and work out modes of authority for the string of towns and tribes between western and eastern Libya, and in the south.

Working with the old regime

A key question not likely to be answered today: How far can the new NTC realistically go without needing or using elements of the old Qaddafi system?

Whether France and Europe more largely can develop a new relationship and new habits regarding Arab states is seen here as a promise. A fresh approach will require humility, an opening of markets, and a better attitude towards minorities, writes Vincent Giret, the editor of Libération on the eve of the meeting:

"After years of erring, and connivance with the most authoritarian regimes of the south Mediterranean, France is finally on the side of history…. France can lay the milestones of a great Arab policy it has always dreamed of, often with grandiloquence and too much hypocrisy.”

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