Turkey urges humanitarian funds for Libya

Turkey called on Friday for billions of dollars of frozen Libyan funds to be released to ease a worsening humanitarian situation across the war-ravaged country during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Western and Arab powers were meeting in Turkey in an attempt to find a political solution for Libya that would persuade Muammar Gaddafi to give up power.

The fourth meeting of the Libya contact group, established in London in March, comes after reports suggesting Gaddafi might be ready to give up his 41-year rule if he could get a deal.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is hoping a political solution could emerge by the start of Ramadan in August.

"There has been progressive improvement of the situation on the ground," he said. "What we need to do now is consolidate our achievements and move into the phase of conflict resolution."

The rebels urgently needed cash and contact group members should consider opening credit lines to the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi, he said.

He also backed a rebel proposal for the release of $3 billion of frozen Libyan assets to alleviate a "grave" humanitarian situation during Ramadan in areas of Libya controlled by the rebels and by Gaddafi.

"We see merit in the suggestion of the TNC for the release of $3 billion from the frozen assets of Libya under U.N. supervision and equal distribution of this amount during Ramadan season to Tripoli and Benghazi on the condition that it will only be used for providing humanitarian assistance," he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton were among more than 30 countries and international bodies attending the Istanbul talks.

China and Russia, two powers who have taken a softer line toward Gaddafi, were invited to the contact group meeting for the first time, but both decided against becoming involved.

Speaking in The Hague on Thursday, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on NATO members to provide more warplanes to bomb increasingly elusive Libyan military targets.

Britain said it was sending four more Tornado reconnaissance planes to beef up the NATO mission. Such aircraft have become vital as Gaddafi's forces have hidden their armor and artillery from NATO warplanes.

Britain said its warplanes had on Thursday destroyed a Libyan army armored personnel carrier near Zlitan, to the west of the rebel stronghold of Misrata.

British aircraft had so far damaged or destroyed more than 500 Libyan military targets including command and control sites.

"But as the campaign has progressed, the regime is increasingly attempting to conceal troops, equipment and headquarters, often in populated areas," a British military spokesman, General Nick Pope, said.

On the ground, rebel commanders in the village of Al-Qawalish, about 100 km (60 miles) west of Tripoli, said they were massing their forces and preparing to advance east toward the town of Garyan, which controls access to the main highway into the capital.

But on Wednesday, the handful of rebels defending Al-Qawalish ran out of ammunition and fled when forces loyal to Gaddafi staged a surprise attack. The rebels took back the village before nightfall, with the loss of seven men.

Uncertain Intentions

No one appears sure whether Gaddafi intends to fight on in the hope of keeping his grip on the territory round Tripoli or seek an exit strategy that guarantees security for himself and his family, but he is not seen having any future role in Libya.

"Countries are starting to look past Gaddafi. He's going to go, and the meeting can be a useful place to take stock of and prepare for that transition," one senior U.S. official told reporters aboard Clinton's plane before landing in Istanbul.

"That's the way we're thinking about this meeting: trying to see it as a pivot in this process."

Earlier this week, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said emissaries from Gaddafi's government in contact with NATO members had said that Gaddafi was ready to quit, but U.S. officials were unconvinced.

"There are a lot of straws in the wind," a second U.S. official said. "We are not persuaded yet that any of this is decisive in terms of the red lines that we have laid out."

Gaddafi himself, in his latest speech on Libyan television on Thursday evening, said he was going nowhere.

"I will fight until the end," he said. "The end of NATO will be in Libya ... The end of the European Union will be in this battle."

The international community has told Gaddafi he must cease violence against his people, withdraw his forces and step down.

Any solution could hinge on whether Gaddafi, after stepping down, is allowed to stay in Libya or take refuge in a third country, regardless of an International Criminal Court's investigation into crimes against his people.

The U.N. Secretary-General's special envoy on Libya, Abdul Elah Al-Khatib, will report the result of his contacts with the Gaddafi government in Tripoli and the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The contact group will also hear from representatives of the Libyan opposition, whose forces are struggling to make a push toward Tripoli from both the east and west.

The TNC has not held direct negotiations with Gaddafi's side, according to Mahmoud Jebril, a senior member of the rebel council.

[Source: By Tulay Karadeniz, Reuters, Istambul, 15Jul11]

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