Rome talks to ready financing for Libya rebels

Global powers seek ways of channeling credit to Libya`s rebels.

Rome: Thursday`s international talks on Libya in Rome promise to be all about the money as global powers seek ways of channeling credit to Libya`s rebels, who are asking for up to three billion dollars.

The plan is to set up a type of "trust fund... under international control" that would aid Libya`s opposition, said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who will be co-chairing the talks with Qatar starting at 0830 GMT.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe are all expected to attend the meeting, with 22 countries and six international organisations represented.

An Italian foreign ministry spokesman said the fund plan would be "an important breakthrough" that would boost the Transitional National Council (TNC), the governing body in eastern Libya fighting Muammar Gaddafi regime.

The TNC will be represented in Rome by its prime minister, Mahmud Jibril.

Business daily Il Sole 24 Ore reported that the fund was planned to be under the control and supervision of the United States but managed by Italian banks.

Assets from Muammar Gaddafi’s regime that have been frozen abroad and revenue from oil sales could be used as a form of collateral, reports have suggested.

The International Contact Group meeting, which includes all the countries participating in a NATO-led campaign in Libya, is taking place amid a stalemate in a conflict that has already killed 10,000 people according to rebels.

The humanitarian situation meanwhile is worsening, particularly in the hotspots of the Western Mountain region and the besieged city of Misrata.

Officials said ahead of the meeting that there could be a new effort at finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict but any progress is unlikely as long as the rebels` key demand – Gaddafi’s departure from power -- is not met.

The finance issue is an important part of the opposition`s staying power.

Ali Tarhoni, the opposition official responsible for finance, said earlier that eastern Libya`s economy would collapse without urgent credit from France, Italy and the United States amounting to "two to three billion dollars".

TNC spokesman Mahmud Shamam gave a lower figure for the required budget -- around 1.5 billion dollars -- and said the money would go mainly towards "medical aid, food and keeping up basic services like electricity, hospitals."

Shamam told reporters that if there was agreement on the financing mechanism this would be a further step towards the political legitimation of the TNC, which has so far been formally recognised only by France, Italy and Qatar.

Qatar, which hosted the first meeting of the International Contact Group last month, has also promised to help the Libyan opposition sell oil from the fields that it now controls in eastern Libya on the international market.

The Rome meeting will be preceded by a press conference given by Frattini and Clinton at around 0800 and will not discuss the military situation on the ground, which is being handled by the NATO alliance, officials said.

Speaking ahead of the talks, France`s Juppe said he hoped the conflict would not last "more than a few weeks, at the most months."

But the TNC`s Shamam said it was "a question of weeks, not months."

"Kadhafi has a lot of money and mercenaries but he controls the same areas as in the first weeks of the conflict. His days are numbered," he said.

Bureau Report