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US Introduces UN Resolution to Release $1.5B in Libyan Assets

Smoke rises above downtown Tripoli following fighting at Bab Al-Aziziya compound August 23, 2011
Smoke rises above downtown Tripoli following fighting at Bab Al-Aziziya compound August 23, 2011
Margaret Besheer

The United States has introduced a resolution at the U.N. Security Council to unfreeze $1.5 billion in Libyan assets for urgent humanitarian needs. The money would be released to the Transitional National Council, which is headed by opponents of embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The U.S. began the push to unfreeze some of Libya’s billions of dollars of assets in U.S. banks on August 8 through the Security Council sanctions committee that oversees such measures. But that committee requires the consensus of all 15 members for action, and member South Africa opposed unfreezing a portion of those funds, essentially blocking the committee’s ability to release the entire package.

Thus, the U.S. moved Wednesday to bring the matter before the Security Council in the form of a resolution, which would require only nine votes in favor and no vetoes.

The draft resolution proposes releasing up to $500 million for international humanitarian organizations and to help fund a U.N. humanitarian appeal. It further proposes unfreezing up to $500 million for the purchase of fuel for electricity, water plants and hospitals, as well as other goods; and a final slice of up to $500 million for expenses related to the Transitional National Council for the provision of social services, including education, healthcare, food subsidies and other humanitarian needs.

South Africa’s U.N. Ambassador Baso Sangqu told reporters that Pretoria does not object to releasing the portion of funds designated for international humanitarian agencies and the U.N. humanitarian appeal, but his government does have concerns about the remaining one billion dollars which would go through the TNC for fuel purchases and other programs. “It is important that the monies of Libya, the funds of Libya, go to the rightful owners of Libya, and to the rightful people of Libya," he said.

On Thursday, the African Union Peace and Security Council will discuss the Libyan issue and Ambassador Sangqu said Pretoria wants to know their opinion before acting because Libya is an AU member. He added that while South Africa has held meetings with the TNC they have not yet recognized them as the sole, legal representative of the Libyan people, and that is another reason Pretoria is reluctant to release the funds.

“All of us were given an opportunity to do due diligence - where is this money going to go? Who is it going to go to? Are those people accountable? Are they accountable, importantly, to the Libyan people? Have they been mandated by the Libyan people to be able to act on their behalf? These are all the questions that all of us have been asking. In our view, that consideration must involve the AU, of which Libya continues to be a member, it must take into consideration the views of the AU," he said.

A U.S official said Washington prefers to settle the matter by consensus through the sanctions committee and hopes that South Africa, as the sole holdout, will change its position. But if it does not, the U.S. will move to bring the resolution to a vote either Thursday or Friday, so the funds can be released quickly to pay for urgent needs.

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