EU, NATO Try to Move Frozen Cash to Rebels

European Union and NATO officials said Tuesday they had started talks on giving aid and unfreezing key Libyan assets in overseas banks, but that it was too early to declare victory in Libya.

"This is not over yet," Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign-policy chief, said at a news conference.

EU officials and leaders including Ms. Ashton have talked to Mahmoud Jibril, chair of the National Transitional Council. Mr. Jibril told them that, as of Tuesday afternoon, rebels control 80% of Libya, Ms. Ashton said.

What is left of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces, said North Atlantic Treaty Organization Col. Roland Lavoie, "gives no sign of giving up their aggressive actions." NATO "will take out and target forces that pose a threat to the civilian populations," he said, highlighting fighting in the town of Brega, and around Tripoli.

Despite its lingering, the Gadhafi regime, said Col. Lavoie, "has passed the tipping point."

Col. Gadhafi is nowhere to be found, but his son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, made a cameo appearance at a hotel in Tripoli on Monday night. He and his men still rule Libya, the son declared.

Nonsense, said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu on Tuesday. "A brief appearance at midnight at a hotel doesn't indicate somebody who's in control of a country or a capital," she said. "It indicates a regime crumbling, somebody on the run."

What happens after the tipping is the question.

NATO ambassadors met Tuesday afternoon in private. Whatever happens, said Ms. Lungescu, "there will not be boots on the ground" and NATO will follow the U.N.'s lead. The military alliance is operating under a mandate from the U.N., valid until Sept. 25, to protect Libyan civilians from the air and enforce an arm embargo. Its planes have flown some 20,000 sorties over the Northern African nation.

Leaders from the EU, U.N. and Arab League will meet Friday in New York, said Ms. Ashton.

A key point will be unfreezing the overseas assets of the Libyan Central Bank, its sovereign wealth fund and other important entities, Ms. Ashton said. The EU "is really very convinced that it will be a very fast procedure," an EU official said afterward. "There is an urgent need of fresh money, to pay army, police and others."

Ms. Ashton said Tuesday the EU was committed to sending medicine, fuel and other aid to Libya, as well as easing what is shaping up as the country's biggest immediate worry, security.

Ms. Ashton described how she had already discussed with rebel leaders "how do you ensure that so many guns and weapons are brought under control in a country without a tradition of keeping guns under control," she said. "And then there's also the issue of securing the borders."

EU officials say they are also preparing to help organize elections, set up a court system, fund media and interest groups, reform the police and design "sound economic policies for growth, development and jobs."

Ms. Ashton said the EU aid was not designed to be the kind of aid usually given to developing country. "Libya has wealth," she said. "EU aid will be focusing on building the state."

In May, the EU added €1.24 billion ($1.8 billion) to the €5.7 billion already budgeted for 2011-2013. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has said it will start lending to North Africa and the Middle East, starting with Egypt. The loans could reach €2.5 billion by 2013.

One important truth emerging Tuesday is that the rebel forces are probably even more disorganized than feared by Western allies. The rebels "are not military formations," Col. Lavoie said. "These are citizens, doctors, farmers, who realized that their cities and villages were no longer under control. These are simple citizens who realized they could take their destiny in their hands and do something about it." That makes NATO's role in protecting civilians as important as ever. "The situation around Tripoli is still very dangerous," he said.

[Source: By John W. Miller, The Wall Street Journal, Brussels, 24Aug11]

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