ABU DHABI // International backers of the Libyan opposition set up a mechanism yesterday to channel cash and other aid to the rebel government in Benghazi.
Several delegations pledged donations at a meeting of the Libya Contact Group in Abu Dhabi, including up to 400 million euros in loans and fuel from Italy, $180m from Kuwait and $100m each from Turkey and Qatar.
The group of about 40 nations and international bodies such as the UN and GCC had agreed at its last meeting in May to set up the fund as they intensify efforts to prepare for a Libya after Muammar Qaddafi.
"Finally we could find a solution that was transparent and satisfies all parties and satisfies all criteria and also satisfies all the needs of the Transitional National Council," the UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said after yesterday's meeting.
Libyan delegates signed a document promising that the future Libyan government would repay any loans it received.
The group has not yet agreed how to unfreeze billions of dollars of assets belonging to the Qaddafi regime and transfer them to the rebel government, although the US and France said they were working out ways to release frozen funds that they hold.
Delegates said there were legal obstacles to unlocking those assets, and Sheikh Abdullah said a UN Security Council resolution would be needed.
"Such money is frozen under the resolution of the Security Council, and no one has access to it unless there is a resolution issued by the UN," he said.
Libyan rebel council members had stressed the urgency of receiving funds as soon as possible, especially while the Qaddafi assets remained inaccessible.
The council's finance minister Ali Tarhouni said earlier in the day: "If no financial concrete support comes out of this conference, we will consider that a total failure."
Libyan delegate Abdurrahman Shalgham said his government needed funds immediately for food, medicine, fuel and salaries for government employees. Over the next four months they needed at least $3 billion, he said. "We have two enemies: Qaddafi and starvation."
The contact group stressed the need to focus on building up the rebel government amid suggestions that it could be required to take over soon.
The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said after yesterday's meeting that there were "numerous and continuing" overtures by people close to Col Qaddafi to negotiate his departure from power.
Proposals from "people close to Qaddafi" included the "potential for a transition" and Col Qaddafi's days were numbered, Mrs Clinton said.
The fourth contact group meeting, to be held in Istanbul in July, will focus on the structures and funding needed for “post-conflict stabilisation”, the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said.
“The summary of advice around the table is that the momentum is now moving decisively against the Qaddafi regime,” he said. “It is critical that the international community prepare for the next steps.”
Nato has intensified its bombing campaign over the Libyan capital of Tripoli, with strikes on Col Qaddafi’s personal compound. At a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday it extended its mission in Libya by three months and vowed to continue as long as necessary. Col Qaddafi, however, has vowed to keep fighting.
Nevertheless, more Libyan officials have defected in recent weeks and the US and Australia offered increased – though not full – recognition of the Libyan rebels yesterday, calling them the “legitimate interlocutor” for the Libyan people. The rebel government, meanwhile, faces a steep learning curve, Mrs Clinton said.
“They have issued statements of their intent of the kind of Libya they would like to see in the future which have been very impressive,” she said.
“We have seen a great deal of improvement in the efforts of the TNC,” she said. “But they know and we know there is a long road ahead.”