TRIPOLI // British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave Libya's new rulers strong support during a visit to Tripoli yesterday vowing to release billions of dollars more in frozen assets and to push ahead with Nato strikes.
The announcement came as Libya's provisional government said its forces had reached the outskirts of toppled leader Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte - still controlled by his loyalists.
Mr Cameron told the fugitive Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and his backers, "It is over. Give up."
Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy were the first world leaders to travel to Tripoli since revolutionary forces, backed by Nato air strikes, swept into the capital on August 21 and forced Col Qaddafi into hiding.
The visit aimed to give a significant boost to the National Transitional Council, the body of former rebels that is widely recognised as the new leadership but faces a major struggle in establishing its authority.
At a press conference alongside the NTC chief, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, and the NTC's prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy both expressed their backing for the council.
Mr Cameron said he would push for the release to the NTC of billions of dollars in Libyan assets that had been frozen to punish Col Qaddafi's regime. To that end, he announced Britain and France would introduce a draft resolution to the UN Security Council today authorising the release of all Libyan assets.
"We have already unfrozen £1 billion [Dh5.87bn] of assets, but if we can pass the UN resolution that we will be putting forward with France tomorrow, there's a further £12bn of assets in the UK alone that we will be looking to unfreeze," he said.
Mr Cameron also pledged the Nato mission would continue as Qaddafi loyalists are still battling revolutionary forces on three fronts in central and southern Libya.
"There are still parts of Libya under Qaddafi's control, Qaddafi is still at large, and we must make sure this work is completed," he said.
He called on Col Qaddafi to surrender, saying "it is time for him to give himself up and time for Libyan people get the justice they deserve by seeing him face justice."
Britain and France led international support for the rebellion and their countries were major contributors to Nato airstrikes that helped turn the tide in favor of the opposition.
All that support could put France and Britain in a good position to cash in on lucrative trade and oil business once the country gets on its feet, but Mr Sarkozy denied that was the goal.
"We ask for no preference with respect to Libyan assets or resources. What we did we did without a hidden agenda, but because we wanted to help Libya," Mr Sarkozy said.
Mr Sarkozy also said Col Qaddafi and others who "committed crimes" will be brought to justice but urged Libyans to avoid "vengeance" and seek unity and reconciliation.
The NTC and an executive committee it created are largely made up of technocrats, some of whom were once would-be reformers in Col Qaddafi's regime who grew disillusioned and left, and representatives from town and cities around the country.
It not only faces the task of winning control over the last Col Qaddafi strongholds, it also must rein in the numerous armed groups and factions under the former rebel umbrella.
The flow of more of the frozen funds from abroad could boost its hand.
So far, the UN has approved the unblocking of about $6bn from banks in the United States, Britain and France.
A spokeswoman for Mr Cameron, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with policy, said a new United Nations Security Council resolution authorising the release of all frozen Libyan assets has support of all five permanent members. Analysts estimate that as much as $110 billion is frozen in banks worldwide.
Britain has also won approval from the UN sanctions committee on Libya to release a further $950 million immediately to fund public sector salaries, she said.
Britain will also offer funds for weapons decommissioning, mine clearance, medical assistance for those with grave combat injuries and specialist help in locating and secure chemical weapons.
* Associated Press and Reuters