The economy minister of the Libyan rebels’ leadership council urged the international community to speed up efforts to provide access to promised funding and frozen assets linked to the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
Abdullah Shamiya said the rebels need the funds to sustain the economy in areas they control. The rebel government set a budget of $3 billion for the next six months, Ali Tarhouni, the rebel finance minister, told reporters yesterday in Doha.
“Let us use some of our frozen Libyan money to meet our basic needs and to buy commodities, fuel and medicine for our people in the liberated areas,” Shamiya, of the Transitional National Council, said in an interview yesterday in Benghazi, the main rebel stronghold in eastern Libya.
Foreign ministers from the 22-nation contact group on Libya meeting in Rome earlier this month called for financial assets that have been frozen by international sanctions and donor contributions to be made available to the rebels. Tarhouni has said he favors keeping most Libyan assets frozen until a new, post-Qaddafi government is in place and has called for providing a credit line or loan, perhaps secured by a portion of the frozen assets.
“It’s taking too long. Why?” Shamiya asked. “They want to make sure that everything goes according to international law and that’s understandable, but please do it fast.”
The U.S. has blocked about $33 billion in regime assets, part of the more than $165 billion frozen worldwide that is beyond the rebels’ reach. A delegation from the transitional council left Washington last week without any clear indication of when the rebels might be able to draw on some of the assets.
Oil Official Flees
In Tripoli, Muammar Qaddafi’s regime lost its top oil official with the defection of Shokri Ghanem, who was reported by rebels to have fled the country as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization kept up its strikes against targets in the capital and Qaddafi forces elsewhere. NATO is also using psychological operations that include dropping leaflets and broadcasting on military frequencies, urging regime forces to return to their barracks and homes, officials said at a briefing.
“NATO is keeping up the pressure and we can see the results on the ground,” Oana Lungescu, the alliance’s chief spokeswoman, told reporters yesterday in Brussels.
Qaddafi’s troops have killed thousands, some during clashes with opposition fighters, since February, and the turmoil has helped push oil prices up more than 30 percent from a year ago. Crude for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose $1.52, or 1.6 percent, to $98.43 a barrel at 9:12 a.m.
NATO said British jets hit two targets in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and identified them as a command-and-control building and a military-training facility. The Associated Press, citing Britain’s Ministry of Defense, said British aircraft had bombed an intelligence agency and a training base for bodyguards protecting members of Qaddafi’s regime. NATO also said it has helped push loyalist forces back in rebel-held city of Misrata.
British Royal Air Force Wing Commander Mike Bracken, NATO’s military spokesman at the alliance’s mission command in Naples, Italy, said allied jets hit a “huge” number of targets in the last few days and are increasingly aiming at Qaddafi’s military infrastructure. RAF planes destroyed several vehicles near Misrata and hit a command bunker near Tarhunah yesterday, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense said today in an e-mailed statement.
Forces loyal to Qaddafi conducted “extremely heavy attacks” along the Tunisian border yesterday, the rebels’ National Transitional Council said in a statement, citing local media representatives from the western Nafusa Mountains. At least three residents were killed and nine injured, it said.
“Representatives have confirmed that Qaddafi forces are using GRAD missiles, snipers, and a previously unseen type of mortar,” it said. “The Tunisian border is an essential lifeline for the delivery of humanitarian aid, which is now unable to reach civilians in the Nafusa area.”
Qaddafi forces have also staged “heavy attacks” in the western city of Yafren, focusing on the hospital there, the council said. It didn’t provide further details.
In Benghazi, Shamiya said that continued funding delays may cause a shortage of cash in rebel-held areas. Rebel officials are encouraging Libyans to deposit their money in banks, he said.
Shamiya said there is a two-month reserve of subsidized food staples, such as rice and flour. Prices for some unsubsidized foods have increased “slightly” and shortages have been reported, he said.
Rebel officials paid April salaries and are working to come up with the May payments, he said. Salaries have been capped at 750 Libyan dinars ($618) per person.
Ghanem, who chaired the state-owned National Oil Corp., arrived in Austria, Mahmoud Shammam, a spokesman for the rebel government, said today in an interview in Doha, Qatar. Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg said he had no information about whether Ghanem is in Austria.
The rebels “are not interested in speaking to Ghanem until he says he has defected,” Shammam said.
Ghanem, 68, had served since 2006 as the state company’s chairman, the highest-ranking position in the nation’s oil industry as Libya doesn’t have an energy ministry. A former head of research at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Ghanem was appointed prime minister by Qaddafi in 2003, with the task of opening up the economy to private investments, both local and foreign.
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