Envoys dangle financial offer to key Gadhafi aides

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2011 3:08 PM
Envoys dangle financial offer to key Gadhafi aides

It's an offer that diplomats hope Moammar Gadhafi's family and top aides can't refuse: If they publicly withdraw support for the Libyan dictator's regime, the restrictions on their assets and travel plans could be made to vanish.

The U.S. Treasury and Britain's Foreign Office have spelled out the details of the proposal, and discussions are now under way at the European Union ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers next week. Talks on the proposed deal will also take place among U.N. Security Council members if any of those named under U.N. sanctions flee from Libya and renounce Gadhafi.

Gadhafi's seven sons, a wife, his daughter, two cousins and other allies who have served him for much of his rule are all being given a chance to escape international blacklists and reclaim billions of dollars of seized funds.

But some critics recoil at the thought, wondering whether the incentives will set a bad precedent for giving billions back to possible plunderers or even if the measures will work to oust Gadhafi.

The offer came as Gadhafi's forces unleashed a withering bombardment on the rebels outside a key oil town Tuesday and a U.S. envoy met with the rebels in the eastern city of Benghazi in a possible step toward diplomatic recognition.

The EU will decide next week whether to lift a travel ban and asset freeze imposed on Moussa Koussa, the former Libyan foreign minister who escaped from Tripoli last week, flew into Britain and is now providing information to intelligence officers and government officials in the U.K.

"There are talks going on this week ahead of meetings in Europe next week," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said, on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy

The U.S. Treasury on Monday removed sanctions it had imposed against Koussa, saying lifting the measures "should encourage others within the Libyan government to make similar decisions to abandon the Gadhafi regime."

It's likely that EU diplomats will also discuss how to handle other potential defectors attracted by the terms of the international community's deal.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers that anyone among the 25 people listed on an EU sanctions list and the 16 named in measures approved by the U.N. could escape the restrictions if they recant their backing for Gadhafi, and if allies agree their actions should be rewarded.

"In the case of anyone currently sanctioned by the EU and U.N. who breaks definitively with the regime, we will discuss with our partners the merits of removing the restrictions that apply to them," Hague said.

The U.S. Treasury has 13 senior Libyan officials on a blacklist, including Gadhafi, his wife and sons, and plans to announce sanctions against other Libyan officials in the coming days.

Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, said the offer to lift sanctions could help pile pressure on Gadhafi.

"It will encourage people to defect and therefore reduce the political support which Gadhafi enjoys," Miles said. "That's the only way in which a solution is going to be reached."

Others aren't convinced.

"It's a carrot-and-stick tactic that frankly hasn't worked very well in the past, but we're reaching a critical point that we have to try various approaches," said a European intelligence official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Miles said the most damaging move would be if any Gadhafi relatives took up the deal.

"If a close family member were to come out openly and defect, that would also be valuable," he added.

Details of the assets each individual Libyan has had seized have not been disclosed by the U.N. or the EU, and officials are still checking the details of bank accounts, stocks and properties that regime insiders own.

Yet Britain's treasury said, so far, it calculates those named under the sanctions hold assets worth about 12 billion pounds ($20 billion) inside the U.K. The Netherlands said it has frozen euro3.1 billion ($4.5 billion) in Libyan assets, and Sweden estimates that Libyan assets there are worth around 10 billion kronor ($1.6 billion).

One relative of a victim of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing _ act of terror that British officials are questioning Koussa about _ said he was troubled to see longtime regime insiders being offered financial incentives to abandon Gadhafi.

In 2003, Libya acknowledged responsibility for bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, an act that killed 270 people, mostly Americans.

"It's kind of distasteful what they have to do," said Bob Monetti, of Cherry Hill, N.J., whose 20-year-old son Richard was killed in the Lockerbie blast. "(But) they're doing whatever they can to isolate Gadhafi to the point where he's alone _ and that's a good idea."

Despite the international offer, Hague has insisted that no members of Gadhafi's regime will be granted immunity from prosecution for past crimes _ even if they help topple Gadhafi.

But others suggest Koussa might win leniency.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, wants to interview Koussa for his investigation into possible atrocities in Libya, and has named Gadhafi and Koussa as possible suspects responsible for crimes against humanity.

Yet Moreno-Ocampo offered an olive branch Tuesday to Koussa, hinting that he may not be prosecuted.

"If you cannot stop the crimes, defecting is a way to avoid criminal responsibility," Moreno-Ocampo said. "So we would like to understand why he defected, what happened and we're trying to interview him."

Scottish authorities will interview Koussa in the next few days over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. And in France, families of those killed when a French plane was blown up in 1989 over Niger _ killing all 170 people aboard _ have demanded that Koussa also answer questions about that attack.

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Paisley Dodds and Cassandra Vinograd in London and Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, New Jersey contributed to this report.