5 May 2011

Allies to fund Libyan rebels with cash lifeline

Rebels are given a financial lifeline as allies seek to unlock Libya’s assets. A lawyer tells Channel 4 News the allies are now aggressively targeting Gaddafi while in Misrata the struggle continues.

Allies to fund Libyan rebels with cash lifeline

The international Libyan contact group met in Rome on Thursday to discuss ways to help fund rebels fighting against forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the White House seeks to change US law to allow it to use some of more than $30bn of frozen Libyan state funds to help people in need.

Italy, host of a meeting in Rome of the “Contact Group” on Libya, said a temporary special fund would be set up by allied nations to channel cash to the rebel administration in its eastern Libyan stronghold of Benghazi.

As the fighting has generally descended into a stalemate, the rebel group – the Transitional National Council (TNC) – has said it needs up to $3bn to keep momentum in the coming months.

Kuwait pledged $180 million to the fund, while Qatar’s Prime Minister promised $400-500 million. France said it was evaluating its contribution to the fund, which should be operational within weeks.

There was a cautious response from Britain, which said it had no plans to contribute to the fund set up for the rebels because it had already made a “very substantial” contribution to humanitarian assistance.

Thursday’s meeting brings together foreign ministers from more than 20 countries including France, Britain, the United States, Italy and Qatar as well as representatives of the Arab League and the African Union.

As fighting continues in Libya, a leading international lawyer told Channel 4 News the proposed financial aid indicated that the alliance was pushing the boundaries of the UN mandate in order to set Gaddafi’s downfall in motion.

Nato are enforcing a UN resolution which allows for the protection of civilians against the Libyan regime.

Misrata: doctors tired and traumatised 

Fighting has continued on the besieged western city of Misrata where Channel 4 News witnessed an aid ship come under fire as it tried to evacuate migrant workers.

The emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres in Misrata has told Channel 4 News that despite a resilient local population, medical staff were beginning to feel the strain of being constantly inundated with wounded people.

"One significant problem is the staff doctors who have been under amazing pressure and are working around the clock. Some have been sleeping in the hospitals and wake up to start work again," Alan Lefebvre said.

"They are psychically tired and traumatised by what they are seeing. We have a psychologist with us and are trying to develop activities to improve the mental health of the medical staff."

Mr Lefebvre told Channel 4 News that they were relying on the local population to provide food and water. Solidarity has provided a united front for the "resilient" residents of Misrata, he said.

Dr Mark Ellis, Director of the International Bar Association, said an “aggressive” policy had been adopted by the allied forces who have “clearly taken sides”.

“The idea of preventive measures has now moved into much more aggressive policy of taking firm action in support of rebel forces,” Dr Ellis said.

“The resolution requires states to ‘take all necessary measures’ to enforce the protection of civilians. The US and others have interpreted those words in a way that allows them to be aggressive in their actions – including the idea of unfreezing assets that the resolution had frozen.

“What the Security Council was clear on is that this was not a regime change resolution – but in fact that is what’s happening.”

Allies to fund Libyan rebels with cash lifeline

‘Gaddafi the target’

Dr Ellis told Channel 4 News that is was “disingenuous” to suggest that the alliance was not targeting Gaddafi and his regime.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a moral imperative to continue to push the Gaddafi regime. But legally there is some ambiguity.”

Parallel to the continued conflict in the country, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno-Ocampo is seeking warrants for the arrest of top Libyan officials for alleged crimes against humanity.

Gaddafi himself is also the subject of investigation by the ICC.

Dr Ellis said: “Everything now is moving towards an end result with Gaddafi being removed.

“The end game is now in play. The only end game I think is in sight is that Gaddafi will leave one way or the other.”

Mine destroyed off Misrata

On Thursday it was disclosed that a British Royal Navy minehunter had been involved in an operation to destroy a mine laid by pro-Gaddafi forces in the sea less than a mile from the entrance to the beseiged port of Misrata.

Using sonar and the Seafox underwater disposal system, HMS Brocklesby located and destroyed the device which contained more than 100 kilograms of high explosive.