Istanbul, Turkey, is hosting a high-level diplomatic meeting of some 30 countries on what support can be given to Libya following the ousting of leader Moammar Gadhafi. The attending countries belong to the Libyan Contact Group and include the United States, European, western Arab and African nations, as well as Libya's rebel government, known as the National Transitional Council [NTC]. Money topped the agenda.
The nearly 30 countries and organizations of the Libya Contact Group called for an expedited process to unfreeze the billions of dollars in Libyan assets for use by the rebels' NTC. The gathering was described as a technical meeting ahead of next week's meeting of the group in Paris. But the head of political affairs for the NTC, Fatih Baja, said concrete steps were taken to unfreeze some of the funds.
"There are not promises, but I think something on the ground is moving. I think [we'll] get $2.5 billion by the end of the month. I think we need more, but for us it's something that will help us," said Baja.
The Libyan assets were frozen in February by a United Nations resolution imposing tough sanctions on Gadhafi in response to his use of violence against protesters. It is estimated that around $150 billion of Libyan assets are frozen worldwide under the U.N. sanctions.
Addressing the Istanbul gathering, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made an appeal to all those attending to work towards unfreezing all Libyan assets.
"We need to take action within the U.N. Security Council to institute the legal framework for the alleviation of the NTC urgent financial needs. Especially finding a solution to the usage to the frozen Libyan assets by the NTC is of critical importance," said Davutoglu.
It remains unclear whether U.N. permanent members Russia and China would support ending the freezing of the funds. Releasing the frozen assets is proving to be a legally complex affair. South Africa's opposition has further complicated matters. But Libyan ambassador to the UAE and NTC member Aref Ali Nayed said they urgently need $5 billion.
"We need urgent medical supply. We need food supply. We [need] medicine. We need spare parts to repair infrastructure. We need communication gear to keep in touch with all the local councils, and to make sure policing happens properly between all local communities. So there is a lot of need," said Nayed.
The head of the NTC, Mahmoud Jibril, said Thursday the release of the funds is crucial to stabilizing Libya. He made the comment during a visit to Italy Thursday, where he received a pledge that $500 million held in Italian banks would be unfrozen.
The United States introduced a draft resolution late Wednesday proposing the release of up to $500 million for international humanitarian organizations and to help fund a U.N. humanitarian appeal. Another $500 million would be used for the purchase of amenities. A vote is expected Thursday or Friday. But Turkish international relations expert Soli Ozel said consideration should be given to how the money is distributed.
"How the money goes to the new regime is more important than the fact that money is going to the regime. You are talking about a country that has no government [and] no institutions, and the rebels, for all the good they have done, are not necessarily known for [their] principles on governance and diligence and stuff. Therefore, it's important to do this with institution building," said Ozel.
The Istanbul meeting also covered the reconstruction of institutions. But observers warn that will take time. The message from the NTC is that time is not what the country has.