Pressure on South Africa to recognise Libya NTC

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Britain and the US are putting intense diplomatic presssure on South Africa to drop its opposition to the unfreezing of $1.5bn of Gaddafi regime assets by the United Nations, with western powers arguing that funds urgently need to be transferred to the National Transitional Council.

As the NTC seeks to establish its authority over Libya, the US and UK want a committee of the UN Security Council overseeing sanctions on Libya to unfreeze the $1.5bn at a meeting in New York today

However, British diplomats say South Africa, which had ties to the Gaddafi regime and is reluctant to recognise the NTC, is resisting the move. South Africa is currently a member of the 15-country Security Council and a unanimous vote is needed to unfreeze the funds.

Accoding to British diplomats, South Africa has said it will agree to $500m being unfrozen in order to give humanitarian support to the Libyan people. However, the remaining $1bn would be used to provide salaries and civil administration. South Africa is thought to believe a transfer of te cash in this way will amount to recognition of the NTC, which they are currently resisting.

South Africa is thought to be in discussion with other African states about what action it will take ahead of a vote later today.

David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister pressed South African president Jacob Zuma on Thursday to drop his country’s opposition to UN. Security Council moves to unfreeze the Libyan assets. The two leaders “agreed that Libya now has the opportunity for transition to a peaceful, democratic and inclusive government and they discussed how the international community should actively and urgently support this process,’” Mr Cameron’s office said in statement

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said that South Africa must join others in siding with the Libya people, and believed there would be ``huge moral pressure’’ on Johannesburg.

``They wanted the world at one point to stand with them against apartheid,’’ Mr Fox told BBC radio. ``I think they now need to stand with the Libyan people, help unfreeze their assets and allow their authorities to get access to the capital they need to rebuild the country.’’

Elsewhere, the Italian government announced on Thursday that will unfreeze Libyan assets held in its banks, with €350 million to be released to the National Transitional Council immediately, as part of its support to post-Gadddafi reconstruction in Libya.

“The interim government, moved from Benghazi to Tripoli, cannot carry out basic services to the people without the necessary financial means,” said Mahmud Jibril, head of the NTC in a joint declaration with Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister, in Milan on Thursday.

Mr Jibril explained that it would be “a failure for the NTC” and a “big destabilising effect” to not be able to provide services and salaries to the Libyans, “who have not been paid for months”.

Eni, the state controlled energy company and largest operator in Libya, is expected to sign an agreement with the NTC in Benghazi as early as Monday, in order to provide emergency quantities of gas and petrol for the immediate needs of the Libyan population. The supply of “large” amounts will be made without advance payments.

Mr Berlusconi also announced that a joint committee between the two governments would be established and that it would be led, on the Italian side, by Franco Frattini, foreign minister. Mr Berlusconi also confirmed his intention to “be close to the Libyan population and give answers to the requests presented by the transitional government”.

In Cairo, the Arab League gave its full backing to the NTC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people on Thursday and said it was time for Libya to take back its permanent seat on the League’s council.

“We agreed that it is time for Libya to take back its legitimate seat and place at the Arab League. The NTC will be the legitimate representative of the Libyan state,” the League’s Secretary General Nabil Elaraby told reporters in Cairo.

The NTC’s representative at the League, Abdelmoneim el-Houni, said Libya would resume its League membership at a meeting of Arab ministers on Saturday.

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