ABU DHABI // The UAE will release up to US$700 million (Dh4.2 billion) in frozen Libyan assets if it receives the go-ahead from the United Nations, the UAE foreign minister said last night.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed called on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution allowing countries that hold such assets to release them.
"There are about 500 to 700 million dollars," Sheikh Abdullah said after talks with his Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rassoul. "But the only way we could unfreeze these assets is through a resolution of the Security Council.
"We would welcome such a resolution but until then the UAE does not have much say in this matter. The UAE would like to unfreeze the Libyan assets soon."
Sheikh Abdullah said he plans to visit Benghazi, initial centre of the uprising, next week to look into possible redevelopment projects in which the UAE can take part.
"The projects and programmes of the UAE in Libya are the main reason for my visit to Benghazi next week, and we will follow up on the issue and the needs and priorities," he said.
"We are in constant communication with our brothers in the new government, and are very happy with the recognition that the National Transitional Council has been receiving and the victories accomplished by the Libyan people. We are also very happy with the forgiveness that the council has shown with the allies of Muammar al Qaddafi.
"The UAE was one of the first countries to recognise the rebels and the first to deal with them as well. The UAE was among the first countries to ask to stop the bloodshed and called on the international community to help. The coming days will be difficult for our friends in Libya."
Several nations have pledged to transfer billions of dollars in frozen assets from the regime of Col Muammar Qaddafi to the opposition, but have not yet done so because of UN sanctions and legal issues.
Until they are lifted by the UN, technically the sanctions apply to Libya regardless of who controls the country.
The US will soon release an initial US$1.5billion (Dh3.6bn) in frozen Libyan assets to the rebel government, its ambassador to the UAE said this week.
The money will be distributed in three $500 million tranches, for emergency aid, fuel to provide electricity and operate desalination plants, and for the health and education needs of the Libyan people.
The release of an as yet unstated amount of Libyan dinars by the UK was also imminent, said Aref Ali Nayed, who also serves as the chief executive of the opposition’s stabilisation team.
However, the release of all such funds is being held up until the UN Security Council votes on the issue.
France, Britain and the United States have been working on a Security Council resolution to release the assets to help the transition to democracy. A vote is expected this week. Libya’s government has more than $150bn in funds frozen abroad, the National Transitional Council has said.
The rebel leadership has repeatedly pressed for the funds to pay for food, fuel and other supplies.
International observers in Tripoli say there is a dangerous shortage of blood at hospitals for the wounded, and a shortage of food. Drinking water is completely unavailable in some areas.
Items needed includ dressing materials, external fixators for treating fractures, anaesthetics, antibiotics and tetanus vaccine, and drugs for chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
Many cancer drugs have been out of stock for weeks or months.
The shortage of fuel and electricity has also crippled the ability of hospitals to keep health services running.
The NTC hopes to receive full recognition by the UN at a meeting of the General Assembly next month, and thus the right to access funds.
A meeting of the Arab League’s foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday will discuss giving the rebel government seats in the Arab League, Sheikh Abdullah said.
He also said the situation in Syria would be discussed during Saturday’s meeting, including the possibility of withdrawing the UAE ambassador to Damascus.