x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

World powers hail the new Libya at Paris summit

Russia recognises NTC as new rulers with China looking likely to follow suit, while fugitive Qaddafi says 'let Libya burn'.

Leaders of Libya's triumphant rebels were feted in Paris last night as legitimate rulers of their country at a summit of world powers designed to help them to chart a way forward from chaos and conflict.

On the 42nd anniversary of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's own seizure of power, key figures of the National Transitional Council met senior delegates from 60 nations in the French capital to plan Libya's future.

The conference urged the UN Security Council to adopt a new resolution to aid recovery by unblocking frozen Libyan assets running into billions of dollars around the world.

The meeting at the Elysée Palace was staged five-and-a-half months after a much more solemn gathering in the same venue to co-ordinate UN-sanctioned military action to end Col Qaddafi's bloody attempts to crush revolt.

The deposed dictator, now a fugitive, broadcast a radio message yesterday urging his supporters to fight on. "If Libya burns, who can govern it? So let it burn," he said.

The NTC interior minister, Ahmed Darrat, described the message as "a sign of misery and despair".

Libya's embryonic government was given a massive boost immediately before yesterday's meeting when Russia, a critic of the military operation against the Qaddafi regime, announced that it now recognised the NTC as the "ruling authority".

China, a substantial investor in Libya, was also represented at the conference, raising hopes that it would follow Moscow's lead despite having shared Russia's misgivings.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing "respects the choice made by the Libyan people and attaches importance to the significant position and role played by the NTC. We are willing to maintain close contact with it and push forward the smooth progress of China-Libyan relations."

Signs of a softening in the stance of Libya's neighbour Algeria also appeared. The foreign minister Mourad Medelci, in Paris for the conference, welcomed the NTC promise to set up a "government representative of all regions" and said this would lead to recognition from Algiers.

Meanwhile, the UN is ready to lead an international mission to help Libya back on its feet, the UN's Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told delegates.

Mr Ban said Libyan, Arab, African and European leaders were agreed that "at this critical moment the international community must come together with an effective, well-coordinated programme of action".

And the EU decided in Brussels to play its part by lifting sanctions imposed on Libya earlier this year as pressure on Col Qaddafi intensified.

Among envoys taking part - and the broad nature of global representation was seen as a notable success - there was a mood of sober satisfaction that the UN-sanctioned operation appears to have led to the desired outcome.

But there was also recognition of the need to avoid the pitfalls of post-invasion Iraq. The British prime minister, David Cameron, co-hosting the meeting with the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, was at pains to stress there was no intention of telling the Libyan people what to do.

"This is a Libyan-owned, Libyan-led process," he said. "The international community are there to help, there to give assistance, there to give advice, but the action and the plan is being drawn up and carried out by the Libyans, and that's right."

Mr Sarkozy struck a similar note while emphasising the international goodwill towards the fledgling government. He said that with the participation of the UN, Arab League and African Union, the world would "turn the page on dictatorship and fight to open a new era of cooperation with a democratic Libya".

The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton met the NTC's national chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and its prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, the council's prime minister, before the conference.

NTC leaders have been left in little doubt about the priorities they must tackle to prevent Libya sliding into post-conflict mayhem.

Reliable water supplies must be restored, hospitals rebuilt and the system of government overhauled. There is also pressure to "police the peace", establishing the rule of law in Tripoli and regional areas, with international help in training security services likely to be provided.

Speaking before the meeting, the French foreign minister Alain Juppé also referred to moves to unfreeze Libyan assets. "There are tens of billions of euros in frozen assets," he said on French radio. "The Americans have unblocked theirs and the British, French and Germans are doing the same."

Mr Juppé denied knowledge of claims in the French press that rebel leaders had promised France control of 35 per cent of Libyan oil production in reward for its prominent role in supporting the anti-Qaddafi insurgency. The reports were also dismissed by the NTC .

Pockets of dissent in the international community remain. South Africa boycotted the Paris conference because of its strong opposition to Nato's military intervention.

The president Jacob Zuma said during a state visit to Norway that his country was unhappy with the way UN resolution 1973 declaring a no-fly zone over Libya had been interpreted to permit air strikes.

"Instead of the UN leading the process, instead of Nato leading the process, we had individual countries, too many people taking the process away. That tended to sideline all the important people," he said.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse