Leaders of the Libyan uprising that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi sat down yesterday with world powers to map out the country’s rebuilding, 42 years to the day after the former strongman seized power in a coup.
A tight three-hour agenda was to focus on political and economic reconstruction, with Western powers anxious to avoid mistakes made in Iraq — but talks on the sidelines may expose early jostling for opportunities in sectors like oil, utilities and infrastructure.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the priority was to help Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) with humanitarian needs and restoring water, fuel and power, but he said investment opportunities loomed for a second stage.
The world’s eyes will be on Libya’s interim chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jabril, as the “Friends of Libya” conference gives the NTC its first major platform to address the international community a week after its forces overran Tripoli and drove Qaddafi out.
The talks were to be attended by the US, European and African leaders and the heads of NATO, the UN and the EU.
Jalil was to open the afternoon talks with an outline of the NTC’s roadmap, which targets a new constitution, elections within 18 months and ways to avoid reprisals. He was to address an evening news conference along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Eager to meet immediate civilian needs, the NTC is expected to push for rapid access to billions of dollars in foreign-held Libyan assets frozen under UN sanctions on Qaddafi.
The US and Britian have won UN permission to unfreeze US$1.5 billion each of Libyan assets and France got approval yesterday to release 1.5 billion euros (US$2.16 billion) out of a total 7.6 billion euros of assets in France.
Russia and China, which opposed the NATO intervention, were also to be represented. Symbolically, Russia yesterday recognized the interim council as the legitimate authority, and Algeria, which has dragged its heels on the issue, said it would recognize a broad-based government the interim rulers are hoping to form.
Other countries might come forward to recognize the NTC yesterday, particularly within the EU, where only 19 of 27 member states have done so to date.
Meanwhile, Libyan rebels hunting Qaddafi’s top officials have captured his foreign minister and are closing in on Qaddafi himself, rebel officials said yesterday.
The announcement also came as rebel forces pressed toward three major bastions of the crumbling regime, including Qaddafi’s hometown.
“The regime is dying,” rebel council spokesman Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga said late on Wednesday, after two of Qaddafi’s sons made conflicting statements on Arab television stations — with one vowing to fight until death and the other offering to negotiate a truce.
“Qaddafi’s family is trying to find an exit,” Ghoga said. “They only have to surrender completely to the rebels and we will offer them a fair trial. We won’t hold negotiations with them over anything.”
Ghoga said yesterday that the rebels had extended the deadline for the surrender of Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte — originally set for tomorrow — giving the loyalist forces there one more week.
“There are good indications that things are moving in the right direction,” he said.
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