Europe, US moving to help cash-needy Libya rebels
(BENGHAZI) - Europe and the United States are moving to help Libya's rebels after talks convinced them the insurgency is a bona fide democratic movement, sources involved in the talks said on Thursday.
But that aid is "non-lethal" -- meaning no weapons were being provided -- and within the limits of UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Libya and allowing international military action to protect civilians, they said.
The Western allies were setting up a communications system between the rebel military and NATO's base organising air strikes.
They were also examining ways to help the Libyan opposition overcome a liquidity crunch and providing "big behind-the-scenes political assistance," the sources said on condition they not be identified.
One source stressed that the Western input was just an "engagement" and was in "no way forcing a solution" on the rebel's political body, the Transitional National Council (TNC).
Three Western envoys have held talks with council members in recent days.
They are Antoine Sivan, a French diplomat who worked in Iraq and Qatar; Christopher Prentice, the British ambassador to Italy who was using experience gained in Iraq, Jordan and Sudan; and Chris Stevens, a US diplomat who used to work in the American embassy in Tripoli.
None has spoken publicly about their conclusions from the talks. But their delegations and spokespeople for the rebel council have all said that the Western powers were satisfied with the rebels' democratic aspirations.
Concerns of Al-Qaeda infiltration in the rebel movement -- a major initial fear for Washington -- were also comprehensively debunked during the discussions, they said.
Those reassurances were bolstering the council's bid to become recognised internationally as the only representative body of the Libyan people.
France, Italy and Qatar have already made that step.
Britain was generally aligned with its allies on recognition, given that it wanted to see Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi and his family depart, but did not want to "tie itself in knots" by making such a clear-cut statement, one source said.
After the days of exploratory talks, the envoys had successfully impressed upon the rebels that "NATO was not a magic wand" that could achieve their military aims of taking control of all the country, another source said.
They had also talked over the "complex and unresolved issues" involved in trying to free frozen Libyan funds abroad to help the rebellion finance its civilian activities in the east of the country.
Oil companies, notably, "have to be careful to operate within the law," one source said, a day after the insurgency shipped out its first cargo of oil it plans to sell through an escrow arrangement with Qatar.
"The issue of liquidity is a real one," the source said, adding that legal studies were being made to see how seized money could be signed over to the TNC.
Additionally, "if the regime were to collapse and suddenly the whole country became the responsibility of the TNC, then they clearly understand there would be pressing immediate needs," the source said.
"There would be suddenly a requirement to convince their population that they have the capacity and a plan to restore services, to pay salaries, to set in motion a political process in line with their vision," the source said.
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