Rome: The Libyan opposition has outlined a political transition for the country if and when Muammar Gaddafi falls, telling an international conference of plans to install an interim government while a constitution is drafted and parliamentary elections held.
Mahmoud Jibril, head of the opposition's Transitional National Council, briefed representatives of two dozen countries and organizations involved in Libya about a political "road map" for a post-Gaddafi Libya at a conference in Rome designed to better coordinate assistance to rebels.
During the conference, the United States said it would move to free up at least some of the more than USD 30 billion it has frozen in Libyan assets, while other conference members agreed to start a new fund to supply civilians with food, medicine and even paychecks.
The move to bolster the rebels and plot a Gaddfai-free future for Libya came despite a virutal military stalemate on the ground. Since the uprising against Gaddafi broke out in mid-February, the two sides have largely been stalled: A US and now NATO-led bombing campaign launched in mid-March has kept Gaddafi's forces from advancing to the east, but has failed to give the rebels a clear battlefield advantage.
The rebels say they need up to USD 3 billion in the coming months for military salaries, food, medicine and other supplies. They also say no country had sent the arms that they desperately need.
The 22-nation Contact Group on Libya agreed at the conference to set up an internationally monitored fund that the rebels can access to provide basic services to the Libyan people. Countries have already pledged $250 million in humanitarian aid to the opposition.
It will be "an international fund in which nations can make their contributions in a transparent way," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
Mahmoud Jibril, head of the oppposition's Transitional National Council, welcomed the financial pledges. "We are more than satisfied," he told reporters.
Jibril was applauded by conference members after he presented a "road map" for a political transition in Libya if and when Gaddafi's regime falls, Italian foreign ministry officials said.
According to Jabril, an interim government would immediately take over to provide day to day governanance and keep order. It would be comprised of three members of his national council, three technocrats from the Gaddafi regime, two high-ranking military officers and two high-ranking security officers with "no blood on their hands," a supreme court judge and perhaps some other advisory members.
A proportionally-selected national committee would be elected to draft a constitution, which would be finalized in 45 days and put to a vote by a national referendum under the auspices of UN observers. Four months after the referendum, parliamentary elections would be held, followed two months later by presidential elections, he said.
As a kind of dry run, Jibril said the national council planned to approach the United Nations "shortly" to oversee municipal elections in areas already under rebel control.
Jabril said countries involved in the Libya campaign had legitimate concerns about what happens next if and when Gaddafi falls, given Libya's strategic and financial importance to many countries in the West.
"People were worried, and it's a legitimate worry, by the way," he said. "People have legitimate interests there."
He stressed that his national council was not aiming to rule Libya, although he promised that it would honor financial contracts signed to date by the Gaddafi regime, including a "friendship treaty" with Italy.
"We are managing the situation until the Libyans will choose their formal government," he said. At a press conference at the foreign press association, Jibril declined to rule out a possible return to monarchy, saying it was up to the Libyan people to decide.
He sidestepped questions about arming the rebels with foreign weaponry, saying only that Libyans deserve to defend themselves and such military aid "would be more than welcome." He said the financial fund agreed to Thursday by the contact group should be aimed at humanitarian and development projects such as schools and hospitals.
"We didn't plan a war against Gaddafi. We did not plan an armed struggle," he said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters at the conference he expected NATO's military campaign to last "months." It was a stark admission of military limits, especially coming from a nation which aggressively lobbied the West to rush to the use of air strikes to support the rebels.
He insisted the Rome meeting showed "the determination of the coalition to maintain all means of pressure to get the departure of Gaddafi, military pressure but also sanctions and other means of pressure."
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, also at the conference, refused to "guess about dates" on when NATO's military campaign would end. He insisted the mission aims to achieve its twin goals of protecting Libyan civilians and guaranteeing humanitarian aid.
Turkey raised the possibility of aiming for a cease-fire within a week, but Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, in a Italian radio interview, dismissed that saying "a few weeks" would be a "realistic time."
NATO's campaign has reduced Gaddafi forces by 40 percent, according to Frattini.
Hillary Clinton said the US administration would work with Congress "to tap some portion of those assets owned by Gaddafi and the Libyan government in the United States, so we can make those funds available to help the Libyan people."
The US also has already pledged USD 53 million in humanitarian aid and authorized up to USD 25 million in non-lethal assistance to the rebels, including medical supplies, boots, tents, rations and personal protective gear. The first shipment is set to arrive in the western, rebel-held city of Benghazi in the coming days.
A US official told reporters traveling with Hillary Clinton that the Obama administration was considering unfreezing some USD 150 million in the short term, though more could be released later. He spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress has not finished reviewing the proposal. Congressional approval could take weeks.
The United States has not determined how the money will be directed, but the official said it will go for humanitarian assistance.
Britain has so far provided 13 million pounds (USD 21.5 million) but has said it does not plan to offer direct funding to Libya's rebels beyond the aid money and non-lethal equipment - including satellite phones and body armor - that it has already pledged.
Italy, conference co-host Qatar, and France have given diplomatic recognition to the rebels, who are based in Benghazi. Frattini opened the four-hour closed session with a call for other nations to do so as well.
First Published: Friday, May 06, 2011, 13:18