TRIPOLI, (Reuters) – Libya’s new leadership reaffirmed their commitment to democracy and good governance on Friday as they worked on how to spend billions of dollars they have been given from the frozen assets of fugitive strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
A day after international powers met in Paris and agreed to hand over $15 billion to the rebels who overthrew Gaddafi last week, the European Union, a key trading partner, rescinded a range of sanctions and officials from the National Transitional Council told financiers about their initial rebuilding plans.
The NTC’s representative in London said that work on putting right the damage of 42 years of eccentric one-man rule and of six months of civil war should not wait until Gaddafi is found and the last bastions of armed support for him are defeated.
“As long as Tripoli, the capital, is stabilized and secure and safe, which it almost is now, and the overwhelming majority of other cities and towns, then Libyans can get on with the process of transition and stabilization and the new political process,” Guma El-Gamaty told the BBC.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, seat of the uprising, an NTC official, speaking privately, said the release of funds by Western powers who are backing them with NATO air strikes meant the NTC now had to show Libyans it was capable of governing:
“Before we had the excuse that we didn’t have money when things went wrong,” he said. “Now we don’t have the excuse.”
Gamaty reaffirmed the council’s commitment to a document which lays out what he called a “clear roadmap” to democracy, including a constitution to be drafted within eight months, a referendum and then full elections in 2013.
“By the end of about 20 months the Libyan people will have elected the leaders they want to lead their country,” he said.
SCHOOLS TO REOPEN
In Tripoli, residents were beginning to savor a return of normal life. A group of municipal street sweepers in high-visibility vests were picking up litter and spent bullet casings on Martyrs Square, formerly known under Gaddafi as Green Square.
NTC fighters had removed some roadblocks on a main road along the shoreline and more foodstores were open, although water supplies and power remained erratic. On a billboard, the NTC had posted a public announcement: “For A United And Free Libya.” Among other notices was one asking people not to fire in the air in celebration. Occasional volleys could still be heard.
NTC education chief Soliman el-Sahli told Reuters that Libya’s schools would reopen on September 17, despite some bombed-out classrooms, scarce transport and a curriculum until this year based on Gaddafi’s personal “Green Book” — an eclectic account of the “Brother Leader’s” views of the world.
One unknown in the process of installing an elected president and parliament is when the timetable will start running. The document says the process would begin once the NTC declares Libya “liberated” from Gaddafi. Its leaders have said the war will not end until he is found “dead or alive.” So it remains uncertain when they might declare “liberation” achieved.
Thursday, the 42nd anniversary of the military coup which brought him to power as a 27-year-old army captain, Gaddafi, who is now 69, declared his defiance in messages broadcast on satellite television. NTC commanders say they think he is hiding in the tribal bastion of Bani Walid, some 100 miles southeast of Tripoli. There are also suggestions he may be in his hometown of Sirte on the coast, or indeed elsewhere.
“Let it be a long battle. We will fight from place to place, from town to town, from valley to valley, from mountain to mountain,” Gaddafi said in one message. “If Libya goes up in flames, who will be able to govern it? Let it burn.”
In further comments broadcast later, he vowed to prevent oil exports, in the kind of threat that stirs fears of an Iraq-style insurgency. “You will not be able to pump oil for the sake of your own people. We will not allow this to happen,” Gaddafi said. “Be ready for a war of gangs and urban warfare.”
NTC commanders say they are taking their time trying to cajole pro-Gaddafi holdouts like Bani Walid and Sirte into surrender, in the interest of sparing further bloodshed.
The NTC’s reconstruction minister, Ahmad Jihani, and Aref Nayed, a member of the council’s rebuilding team, met experts in post-conflict rebuilding from groups like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and USAID in Paris Friday.
U.S. and French officials said the meeting was mainly about listening to the Transitional Council’s needs.
Despite having access to some of the tens of billions of dollars Gaddafi had invested abroad, the new leaders will also need short-term aid and longer-term loans to help the North African state stave off a humanitarian crisis.
In order for Libya’s new leaders to obtain aid from bodies such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, they will need to be recognized by the IMF, which says it would need such a move to be supported by its 187 members.
Though dozens of countries have followed the Western powers in recognizing the NTC as Libya’s legitimate government, others have had qualms about the use of NATO force to oust Gaddafi — although, amid concern for post-war contracts, the likes of Russia have now given the council full recognition.
Many African and developing countries are still uneasy with a process that reminds some of the U.S.-led operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if Western leaders are at extreme pains to deny any plan to send in troops or run Libya for the Libyans.
Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota of Brazil, which has not recognized the NTC but has been in discussions with it, said on Friday that this month’s United Nations General Assembly would settle the matter of recognition.
“At this point the international community should insist on an immediate ceasefire with international monitoring and I think we need to look for a calendar for transition in Libya with upholding of elections,” he said during a visit to Bulgaria.
The European Union’s Official Journal listed 28 Libyan entities freed from EU sanctions as work gets under way to send in supplies and export oil through ports previously controlled by Gaddafi. EU foreign ministers meeting in Poland were to discuss how to help to stabilize Libya.
European powers ended a long standoff with Gaddafi in recent years as he scaled back hostility in return for the development of oil and gas exports. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Europe saw the new Libya as a major energy supplier and ally: “Libya is potentially a wealthy country, key because of Europe’s drive to diversify energy sources.”
A history of tribal, ethnic and regional friction as well as divisions during the rebellion have created a wariness, both among Libyans and foreigners, about the ability of the new leaders to bring stable democracy to Libya’s six million people.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Paris on Thursday: “Winning a war offers no guarantee of winning the peace that follows … We will be watching and supporting Libya’s leaders as they keep their stated commitments.”