Libya Rebels Eye Oil Restart, Win Aid Pledges

Townhall.com Staff
|
Posted: Jun 09, 2011 10:18 AM
Libya Rebels Eye Oil Restart, Win Aid Pledges
(Reuters) - Libya's rebels said they hoped to restart oil production and gained pledges of over $500 million aid on Thursday, as Western powers nudged them to plan for the day after Muammar Gaddafi's fall from power.

NATO pounded Tripoli from the air, and Western and Arab nations met the rebels in Abu Dhabi to focus on what one U.S. official called the "end-game" for the Libyan leader.

At the United Nations, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said its investigators had found evidence linking Gaddafi to a policy of raping opponents.

In the U.S. Congress, a bipartisan group proposed that President Barack Obama use frozen Libyan government assets to pay for humanitarian aid for Libyan people caught up in the civil war.

NATO air strikes resumed in Tripoli on Wednesday night after a lull that followed the heaviest day of bombings since March, with new blasts shaking the capital on Thursday morning.

Rebel Oil and Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni said the Benghazi-based leadership hoped to restart production of up to 100,000 barrels a day "soon," without specifying a timeframe, and called for more aid, immediately.

"It is a failure if there is no clear financial commitment to it," he told reporters. "Our people are dying ... So my message to our friends is that I hope they walk the walk."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Reuters Italy would give the rebels up to 400 million euros ($586.1 million) of cash and fuel aid backed by frozen Libyan assets.

That pledge of assistance came at a meeting of the so-called Libya contact group, including the United States, France and Britain, as well as Arab allies Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan, which is pressing the rebels to give a detailed plan on how they would run the country if Gaddafi stood down or was toppled.

"The international community is beginning to talk about what could constitute end-game to this," one senior U.S. official told reporters aboard U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's plane which landed in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night.

"That would obviously include some kind of ceasefire arrangement and some kind of political process ... and of course the question of Gaddafi and perhaps his family is also a key part of that," the U.S. official said.

Both Libya's rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) and its Western allies have rejected Libyan government ceasefire offers that do not include Gaddafi's immediate departure.

The U.S. official said there have been talks on what might happen to Gaddafi but nothing specific on "where he should go, or whether he should remain in Libya for that matter."

"PRESSURE WILL INCREASE"

U.S. officials on Wednesday announced delivery of the TNC's first U.S. oil sale, part of a broader strategy they hope will get money flowing to the cash starved group.

U.S. oil refiner Tesoro said in May it had brought 1.2 million barrels, which U.S. officials said was due to arrive in Hawaii on Wednesday on a tanker chartered by Swiss trader Vitol.

British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said the group would be briefed by the International Stabilisation Response Team which is helping the rebel council plan for after Gaddafi.

"This meeting will confirm the growing consensus ... that Gaddafi should go. It will look at the regime being degraded through defections, through pressure upon it both militarily and diplomatically," he told reporters.

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on Wednesday, but there were few signs of willingness to intensify their Libya mission, which after four months has failed to oust Gaddafi.

The alliance says the bombing aims to protect civilians from the Libyan leader's military, which crushed popular protests against his rule in February, leaving many dead.

Gaddafi says the rebels are a minority of Islamist militants and the NATO campaign is an attempt to grab Libya's oil.

At the United Nations, the ICC prosecutor said its investigators have evidence linking Gaddafi to a policy of raping opponents and may bring separate charges on the issue.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested arrest warrants on May 16 against Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the country's spy chief on charges of crimes against humanity committed during attempts to crush the country's rebellion.

At a U.N. news conference on Wednesday, he said the question until recently had been whether Gaddafi himself ordered the rapes "or is it something that happened in the barracks?"

"But now we are getting some information that Gaddafi himself decided" to authorize the rapes, "and this is new."

SEIZED ASSETS TO AID

In Washington, a group of leading Senate Democrats and Republicans said they were sponsoring a bill under which President Obama could use frozen Libyan government assets to pay for humanitarian aid to Libyan people caught up in the conflict.

"The ongoing violence in Libya has ... left far too many innocent Libyan citizens struggling to simply put food on the table," Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson said in a joint statement with the committee senior Republican, Richard Shelby.

The United States is holding more than $34 billion, part of sanctions imposed in late February on Gaddafi and close aides.

Rebels in the besieged western city of Misrata said thousands of pro-Gaddafi forces launched a major advance on the city and killed at least 12 people with a barrage of shell fire late on Wednesday, though NATO disputed that account.

"We didn't see anything anywhere near the thousands. There were some small groups of pro-Gaddafi forces who were trying to advance toward the center of Misrata ... but I think this is an embellishment," a NATO official said.

Gaddafi troops and the rebels have been deadlocked for weeks, with neither side able to hold territory on a road between Ajdabiyah in the east, which Gaddafi forces shelled on Monday, and the Gaddafi-held oil town of Brega further west.

Rebels control the east of Libya, the western city of Misrata and the range of western mountains near the border with Tunisia. They have been unable to advance on the capital.

(Additional reporting by Peter Graff in Tripoli, Khaled al-Ramahi in Misrata, Adrian Croft in London and Mahmoud Habboush and Andrew Quinn in Abu Dhabi; writing by John Irish and Joseph Logan; editing by Tim Cocks)