Wednesday 27 July 2011
Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain is unfreezing 91 million pounds ($150 million) of Libyan oil assets to help the National Transitional Council, which the UK now recognizes as “the sole governmental authority in Libya.”
“This decision reflects the National Transitional Council’s increasing legitimacy, competence and success in reaching out to Libyans across the country,” Hague said.
He said the council had been invited to send an ambassador to London, adding that “we will deal with the National Transitional Council on the same basis as other governments around the world.”
The Libyan charge d’affaires was summoned Wednesday morning and informed that all eight remaining staff and their dependents must leave the country within three days, the Foreign Office said.
Qaddafi's ambassador, Omar Jelban, was sent home in May after an attack on the British ambassador's residence in the Libyan capital Tripoli.
A handful of demonstrators gathered outside the embassy in London, with a rebel banner, heckling the diplomats outside and threatening to climb onto the balcony and tear down Qaddafi’s green flag. They were shooed away by police, who stood guard outside the four-story stone and brick building across from the city’s Hyde Park.
Abdelatif Kleisa, a Libyan emigre now living in Sheffield, was among the demonstrators. He said any defections would be welcome but the defectors themselves wouldn’t be treated as heroes.
“It’s too late for them to defect,” said the 48-year-old businessman, who wore a rebel flag pin over his heart. Asked if any of the diplomats could win a place in the rebel movement, he let out an expletive.
“No way,” he said. “They have to get normal jobs like anyone else. We struggled for 42 years. Now it’s their turn to struggle.”
Britain’s diplomatic moves implement a decision made at a July 15 meeting in Istanbul during which the United States, Britain and 30 other nations recognized Libya’s main opposition group as the country’s legitimate government.
A popular uprising seeking to oust Qaddafi broke out in February, but the front lines in the civil war have remained largely stagnant since then. Rebels, backed by NATO air bombings, control much of the country’s east and pockets in the west. But Qaddafi controls the rest from his stronghold in Tripoli, the capital.
Hague said London would invite the council to replace Libya’s diplomats in Britain and free up some funds currently blocked due to an asset freeze on Libyan funds.
“At the request of the Arabian Gulf Oil Company, a Libyan oil company, the United Kingdom is ready to make available 91 million pounds of the company’s assets in the United Kingdom.”
The rebels have long called on nations to give the administration in Benghazi access to Libyan assets frozen abroad so they can cover the daily costs of running the east of the country, which they now control.
They won $1.1 billion at a donor conference in June and received a further boost this week when Turkey dispatched the first cargo of fuel in a multi-million dollar supply deal.
The Libyan opposition saluted Britain's decision. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, said Britain's recognition "gives us a political and economic boost."
"We will try through this recognition to get our frozen assets," Abdul-Jalil told a news conference in Benghazi in eastern Libya. "This means Qaddafi and his followers are no longer legitimate." He added that the new Libyan ambassador to Britain would be Mahmud Nacua, who he described as a Libyan exile in Britain.
In a sign of Qaddafi's defiance, the Libyan man convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing attended a pro-Qaddafi rally. The Libyan state TV images showing the bomber in a wheelchair in a crowd in Tripoli on Wednesday revived criticism in Britain of the decision to grant him early release on medical grounds.
Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi was convicted in the 1988 downing of a Pan Am plane that killed 270 people, most of them Americans, over Lockerbie, Scotland. He was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and at the time was given three months to live. Al-Megrahi returned to a hero's welcome in Libya later that year.
"The appearance of Mr. Al-Megrahi on our television screens is a further reminder that a great mistake was made when he was released," British Foreign Secretary Hague told reporters.
Meanwhile, Libyan expats have become the first to take a stab at forming a political party in Benghazi. “We call ourselves the New Libya Party because everything was destroyed,” said Ramadan Ben Amer, 53, a co-founder of the party, which is the offshoot of an online news website that he helped launch in late February to support the revolution.
“Qaddafi says he has built Libya brick by brick but, especially Benghazi, he has destroyed brick by brick,” Ben Amer said hours before presenting his party at the Uzu Hotel.
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Qadaffi and two of his sons, said “justice must be done” irrespective of any political agreement.
The ICC comments follow Britain and France dropping their calls for Qadaffi to quit power and leave the country — seemingly part of a new diplomatic push to end the war as the rebels struggle to make significant gains on the battlefield, despite four months of NATO bombing of Qadaffi’s forces.
This week Hague said for the first time that Qaddafi might be able to remain in Libya, as long as he is not in power.
He said that “Qaddafi is going to have to abandon power, all military and civil responsibility,” but “what happens to Qaddafi is ultimately a question for the Libyans.”
France and the United States have made similar suggestions.
But Libya’s rebel leader said on Wednesday that his council had offered a month ago to allow Muammar Qaddafi to stay in the country provided he step down first but that this offer had now expired.
“This offer is no longer valid,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil told reporters in the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi.
Abdel Jalil said the offer was made about a month ago through United Nations envoy Abdel Elah Al-Khatib with a two-week deadline attached. The two weeks had passed and the offer was no longer valid, he said.
Despite four months of NATO air strikes on pro-Qadaffi forces, the rebels have failed to make a big gains toward Tripoli and appear unlikely to make a breakthrough before the start in early August of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.