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U.K. Recognizes Rebels as Libya Government, Unfreezes Assets

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks during a press conference at Foreign and Commonwealth Office on July 27, 2011 in London, England. Photographer: Kerim Okten-Pool/Getty Images

Britain is to recognize the National Transitional Council as the sole legitimate government in Libya and give the rebel authority access to oil revenue held in the U.K., Foreign Secretary William Hague said

Remaining staff at the Libyan Embassy in London are being expelled and the council, which is trying to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi, has been asked to appoint a diplomatic envoy and take over the mission, Hague told a news conference in the U.K. capital today. The British moves follow recognition of the NTC as Libya’s governing authority by the U.S., France and Italy.

Hague said 91 million pounds ($149 million) of oil assets in the U.K. belonging to Libya’s Arabian Gulf Oil Co. are being unfrozen to help the council meet “basic needs” including the provision of fuel and salaries. The NTC controls the company.

As the military campaign in Libya enters its fifth month, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its allies are trying to wrap up a mission that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe promised at its March 19 outset would “be counted in days and in weeks, not in months.” Rebel forces have yet to significantly widen areas they control. They hold much of the east and some of the west near Tripoli, while Qaddafi retains the capital.

‘Bet’ on NTC

Britain has “put its bet firmly on the NTC” by recognizing the rebel council as the legitimate Libyan government, Stefan Talmon, a professor of international law at the U.K.’s University of Oxford, said today in an interview.

About 30 nations have recognized the NTC as Libya’s legitimate governing authority. The U.S., France, Italy, and the U.K. have gone further with recognition of the council as the Libyan government, according to Talmon. Russia has declined to recognize the Qaddafi opponents as the Libyan authority.

The U.K. decision removes a barrier to granting the rebels access to funds, though United Nations sanctions still prevent the release of all government assets to the council. As much as $130 billion of frozen Libyan assets are held around the world.

Hague said the U.K. will work “hard” with partners in the coming weeks to unfreeze more assets, including currency and other Libyan central bank holdings.

British Assistance

The recognition will allow Britain to give “greater practical assistance” to the council as it tries to oust Qaddafi after 42 years in power, Hague said. He also signaled a move away from his comments that suggested Qaddafi could stay in the country if he steps down, provided the NTC agrees.

“The best solution in a political settlement would be for Qaddafi to leave Libya,” the foreign secretary said. “There is a better solution than that, which would be for him to be at the International Criminal Court.”

The ICC’s June 27 indictment of Qaddafi on charges of crimes against humanity limit his exile options to the handful of countries that didn’t ratify the 2002 treaty that set up the court.

The court in The Hague expects the Libyan government, including any future government, to comply with the country’s obligation as a UN member to implement the ICC’s arrest warrants in the case, a spokeswoman for the court, Florence Olara, said today in an e-mailed response to questions.

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