Libya meeting seeks to get aid to anti-Gaddafi rebels

An international coalition against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi met on Thursday to seek ways of getting funds to an ill-equipped rebel movement which is fast running out of cash.

As the conflict in Libya ground into stalemate, the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) has appealed for loans of up to $3 billion to meet pressing needs including food and medicine.

The request has so far met a cautious response from Western governments already grappling with severe financial problems of their own, but the meeting in Rome is expected to seek ways around the legal hurdles hindering funding the rebels.

"We'll be discussing a financial mechanism, we'll be discussing other forms of aid," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a joint news conference with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini ahead of the third meeting of the coalition, which groups more than 20 countries.

"I will be formally announcing our non-lethal assistance so I think that there is an effort with urgency to meet the requests that the TNC is making," she said.

In a speech to be delivered to the meeting, Frattini said a fund called the Temporary Financial Mechanism would be established to funnel money to the TNC.

He thanked Qatar, the leading Arab supporter of the Libyan uprising, for its efforts to create the fund.

He called for other members of the coalition to join Italy and France in recognizing the rebel movement and said the group must show determination to end Gaddafi's rule.

"We shall not leave a divided and insecure Libya as a playground for Gaddafi's mercenaries," Frattini said.

U.N. Sanctions

United Nations sanctions have prevented the rebels, based mainly in the eastern part of the country, from selling oil on international markets and there have been legal obstacles to accessing Libyan state assets frozen abroad.

Thursday's meeting of the so-called Libya Contact Group, will bring together foreign ministers from countries including France, Britain, the United States, Italy and Qatar as well as representatives of the Arab League, African Union and United Nations.

The meeting is not expected to address military issues but ministers are likely to re-state their confidence in NATO operations against Gaddafi's forces, despite the lack of progress since initial airstrikes drove them back from the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi in March.

"Our action to protect civilians is indispensable to open the political phase," Frattini said. "The faster this happens, the faster the political solution can begin."

[Source: By Arshad Mohammed and Silvia Aloisi, Reuters, Rome, 05May11]

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