Libya contact group to recognize opposition in Benghazi
More than 30 countries will recognize the Libyan opposition as the "legitimate authority of Libya," after Turkey urged allied countries to provide humanitarian aid to Libya, officials said Friday, a move that would keep up the military pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and potentially free up cash the rebels urgently need. Such a move would be a major upgrade for the opposition Transitional National Council (TNC), which has been seeking formal recognition from the United States and others for months.
As it becomes increasingly clear that the council will govern a post-Gaddafi Libya, senior US officials have said the Obama administration was preparing to strengthen ties once it presents detailed plans for a democratic and inclusive government. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged to a special financial mechanism, but tens of millions in frozen Gaddafi regime assets in the US and elsewhere are still inaccessible to rebels because of a lack of recognition and UN sanctions. Speaking on the sidelines of the fourth meeting of the Contact Group on Libya in İstanbul, Italian FM Franco Frattini told reporters that "the entire Libyan Contact Group decided to recognize the TNC as the legitimate authority of Libya."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, “This means that we will be able to unfreeze a certain amount of money belonging to the Libyan state since it is the Transitional National Council that as of now will have this responsibility.” A roadmap to end the conflict demands that Gaddafi must resign and a cease-fire be declared with a goal of democratic elections, Juppe said. He stressed that military pressure will be kept until Gaddafi steps aside.
The decision to recognize the TNC came after the Turkish foreign minister urged delegates to find “innovative ways” to support the Libyan opposition. Ahmet Davutoğlu suggested the group open lines of credit to meet the Libyan rebels’ “urgent need for cash” before the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which starts next month. Turkey has already started a $200 million credit line, he said.
Davutoğlu also stressed the need to increase humanitarian aid as the holy Muslim month of Ramadan approached, warning that ongoing UN sanctions are causing suffering among people living under Gaddafi’s control.
In the run-up to the İstanbul gathering, Davutoğlu expressed hope that the framework for a political solution to end the conflict could emerge by Ramadan. The Turkish foreign minister called for the contact group to focus on these efforts, while keeping up pressure on Gaddafi’s government in Tripoli and looking for fresh ways to support the opposition TNC.
Davutoğlu called the TNC the legitimate representative of the Libyan people and said it should lead efforts toward stabilizing and reconstructing the country and plan for the post-conflict recovery.
Given the legal difficulties releasing money frozen by the United Nations, Davutoğlu suggested the assets could be used as collateral by governments providing financial aid to the rebel administration in Benghazi.
“Above all, the alleviation of the TNC’s urgent need for cash is of primary importance as we approach the holy month of Ramadan. In this respect I would like to encourage all our partners in the contact group to consider opening credit lines to the TNC amounting to a certain percentage of the Libyan frozen assets in their country,” he said.
There have been concerns about whether the initial government would represent the full spectrum of Libyan society, and Human Right Watch called on the Contact Group on Libya to press the opposition to ensure that civilians are protected in areas where rebels have assumed control.
The rights group said Friday it has documented abuses in four towns - Awaniya, Rayayinah, Zawiyat al-Bagul, and Qawalish -- recently captured by rebels in the western mountains, including looting, arson and beatings of some civilians who remained when government forces withdrew.
“Rebel abuses may pale in comparison with the atrocities by Libyan government forces, but they require immediate attention,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments supporting the NATO campaign should push the opposition to protect civilians in areas where rebels have control, especially where some people may support the government.”
Turkey, which is co-chairing Friday’s meeting together with the United Arab Emirates, has called for an immediate cease-fire and for the provision of water, food and fuel to strife-torn cities. It wants NATO to stop targeting ground forces to prevent civilian casualties, HaberTürk television said on Friday.
Davutoğlu told reporters on Thursday night that Gaddafi could remain in Libya if an agreement is reached, the Turkish media reported on Friday. Gaddafi has refused to step down although French officials have said Libyan emissaries are seeking sanctuary for the leader.
Frattini also said that the UN special envoy to Libya, Abdelilah al-Khatib, has been authorized as the sole representative to communicate with the Gaddafi regime. The move apparently aims to simplify lines of communication with the Libyan regime.
Rebel forces are trying to close in on the Libyan capital to overthrow Gaddafi. But his forces reportedly repelled a coordinated attack by NATO forces and rebels against a strategic oil town, Brega, in the east of the country on Thursday.
Ahead of the meeting in İstanbul, a defiant spokesman for the Libyan government said they were ready to die in defense of the country’s oil against attacks by the rebels and NATO forces.