The leaders of Britain and France have cautioned that the struggle to stabilise Libya is not over, as countries backing the National Transitional Council agreed to unblock billions of dollars in Libyan assets for use by the interim authorities.

Speaking at a meeting in Paris on Thursday to discuss Libya's transition after decades of rule by Muammar Gaddafi, David Cameron, the British prime minister, said NATO would continue operations for as long as needed to protect civilians.

"We cannot afford a failed pariah state on Europe's borders," Cameron said. "We will all lose if the Arab Spring gives way to a cynical winter of repression."

Leaders and envoys from 60 nations and world bodies such as the UN and NATO attended the meeting.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged the NTC to begin a "process of reconciliation and forgiveness" as he announced the meeting's decision to unblock $15bn in frozen Libyan funds.

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"We are committed to returning to the Libyans the monies of yesterday for the building of tomorrow," Sarkozy said.

The leaders, whose nations have played leading military and diplomatic roles in supporting opposition to Gaddafi during the six-month conflict, insisted on the need for Libyans themselves to lead the way forward and to avoid the lessons learned in Iraq, where the fall of Saddam Hussein was followed by years of sectarian violence.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the chairman of NTC who also attended the Paris meeting, has said Libya's own people must now seek reconciliation among themselves.

"We stood by you and so did the international community. Now everything is in your hands. It's up to you to accomplish what we promised: stability, peace and reconciliation," the NTC chief said on Thursday.

The world had bet on the Libyans and they had showed their courage and made their dream real, said Mahmoud Jabril, the deputy head of the NTC.

Arab League 'did not do enough'

Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, expressed criticism of the Arab League, suggesting that NATO involvement in the conflict could have been avoided if Arab states had taken decisive military action themselves.

"The Arab League did not do enough in Libya; perhaps NATO would not have been needed," he said.

Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull, reporting from Paris, said the leaders of the NTC had set out to world leaders their vision for Libya's political transition, including setting up a new constitution, restoring security to the streets and holding elections as soon as possible.

But they also focused on the need to restore basic services and the need for frozen assets to be released, our correspondent said.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, also pledged support for Libya's transition to democracy.

Clinton said NATO's military campaign should continue as long as civilians were under threat, but said UN sanctions should be lifted in a responsible way. She also said Libya's new leaders should be given the country's UN seat.

"The work does not end with the end of an oppressive regime," she said. "Winning a war offers no guarantee of winning the peace that follows. What happens in the coming days will be critical."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council to make a decision quickly on deploying a civilian mission to stabilise Libya.

He said world leaders at the conference agreed that the UN would now take the lead on assisting Libya's new leadership.

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The meeting, dubbed the "Friends of Libya Conference", was the first international gathering for the NTC since it took control of most of the country, including the capital, Tripoli, last month.

Our correspondent said, "An enormous amount of contracts will be up for grabs. An NTC spokesperson told Al Jazeera on Thursday that those contracts would be awarded on the basis of merit."

"The NTC has promised that those countries that gave it the most support will take significant rewards. That should put France and the United Kingdom, perhaps the United States as well, at the top of the queue.

Russia and China, which opposed NATO's intervention in Libya, were also represented at Thursday's meeting, with Moscow becoming the latest major power to recognise the NTC's authority.

But South Africa, which is still to recognise the NTC, boycotted the talks, with President Jacob Zuma saying his country was "not happy" with NATO's decision to bomb Gaddafi's forces.

Source: Al Jazeera and Agencies