Libya’s rebels yesterday announced the transfer of their leadership to Tripoli, boosted by a UN decision to free up millions of US dollars in aid money and despite not having captured strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
The decision by the National Transitional Council (NTC) to move from its Benghazi base comes just days after rebel fighters on Sunday overran Tripoli, going on to capture Qaddafi’s headquarters and vast swathes of the capital.
However, pockets of resistance remain in Tripoli while Qaddafi’s hometown, Sirte, in the center of the country, remains in loyalist hands and Libya’s west has yet to be fully won.
Ali Tarhuni, a NTC official, said their leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil would arrive in Tripoli as soon as the security situation permitted.
“I declare the beginning and assumption of the executive committee’s work in Tripoli,” Tarhuni, the executive committee’s vice-chairman and minister of oil and economics, told a press conference in the capital.
“Long live democratic and constitutional Libya and glory to our martyrs,” he said, announcing the holders of key posts in a new provisional government.
He called on forces loyal to Qaddafi to lay down their arms, and promised they would be treated lawfully.
“Put your weapons down and go home. We will not take revenge. Between us and between you is the law. I promise you will be safe,” he said
The UN Security Council released US$1.5 billion of seized Libyan assets to be used for emergency aid after the US and South Africa ended a dispute over the money.
The assets were frozen in US banks, but South Africa had blocked the release on the Security Council’s sanctions committee, saying it would imply recognition of the NTC.
The last-minute accord with South Africa meant that the US did not press for a Security Council vote.
“The money will be moving within days,” a US diplomat said.
The new request made no mention of the NTC, only that the money would be directed through the “relevant authorities.”
Washington said on Thursday the money would pay for UN programs, energy bills, health, education and food, and would not be used for any “military purposes.”
Mahmud Jibril, No. 2 in the NTC, said yesterday in Istanbul it was essential that the West release all of Libya’s frozen assets.
“There will be high expectations after the collapse of the regime. The frozen assets must be released for the success of the new government to be established after the Qaddafi regime,” he told a news conference.
“Salaries of civil servants need to be paid. The life needs to continue on its normal course,” Jibril said, a day after senior diplomats of the Libya Contact Group met in Istanbul and agreed to speed up release of some US$2.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets by the middle of next week.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged support for the “new Libya,” urging the rebels to turn the page on Qaddafi’s rule and build a secure, democratic state.
Clinton called on the rebels to guard weapons stockpiles and take a hard line against “extremism.”
“The situation remains fluid, but it is clear that the Qaddafi era is coming to an end, opening the way for a new era in Libya — one of liberty, justice, and peace,” she said in a written statement.
The whereabouts of Qaddafi remain unknown, and on Thursday he broadcast a message calling on the populace to take up arms.