Italy hosts Libya coalition talks

Countries involved in military campaign are to seek a way of financing Libya's rebel Transitional National Council.

    Ministers from the NATO-backed coalition in Libya are meeting in Rome to seek ways of financing rebels in the north African country.

    The meeting of Libya Contact Group will bring together foreign ministers from countries including France, Britain, the United States, Italy and Qatar as well as representatives of the Arab League and the African Union.

    As the conflict in Libya has ground into stalemate, the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC), which controls the region around Benghazi in the east and has been recognised by both France and Italy, has appealed for loans of up to $3bn.

    Opposition fighters are desperate to buy food and medicine and shore up their administration.

    But efforts to unblock state assets frozen in overseas accounts, or to allow the rebels to get past UN sanctions that prevent their selling oil on international markets, have been held up.

    "It's not easy. There are Libyan assets that are frozen and for legal reasons unfreezing them is difficult," Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, told France 24 television on Wednesday.

    Mahmoud Shammam, chief spokesman for the TNC, said the rebels urgently needed $1.5bn to cover immediate running costs.

    "We need this for medical supplies, for food supplies, to keep the minimum functions of normal life - electricity, running hospitals etc," he said.

    Other rebels have spoken of needing $2-3bn to try to shore up an administration created from scratch with no substantial sources of funding, and to pay the state salaries on which most people depend.

    'Hungry for weapons'

    The rebels also want to press their cases for better weapons and equipment, Shammam suggested, saying that they are "hungry for basic arms."

    Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, a TNC spokesman, said they had no received any commitments for weapons from any country supportive of their movement against the government of Muammar Gaddafi.

    British officials said the Rome meeting on Thursday would also seek to impose new restrictions on arms smuggling and mercenaries operating within Libya, and hoped the contact group would work on action intended to restrict Gaddafi's exports of crude oil and his ability to import refined oil products.

    An aid ship was attacked by forces loyal to Gaddafi while rescuing African and Asian migrant workers from the besieged port of Misurata, forcing it to leave behind hundreds of Libyans desperate to flee the fighting.

    People are desperate to flee the conflict  [AFP]

    Aid workers had earlier scrambled to embark the migrants, along with journalists and the wounded, on the ship bound for rebel-held Benghazi as the port came under bombardment on Wednesday. 

    "The bombing has caused so many casualties among Libyans and people of other nationalities waiting for evacuation," Gemal Salem, a rebel spokesman, told Reuters news agency.

    "So far we have five killed and ambulances are rushing to the scene."

    The MV Red Star One, sent by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), picked up 800 people caught up in the civil war who had been waiting for days to escape Misurata's worsening humanitarian crisis.

    It had hoped to take 1,000 people.

    "Hundreds of Libyan civilians had also tried to board the ship in desperation to get out of Misurata. But with a limited capacity, the ramp of the boat had to be pulled up so that the ship could pull away from the dock in safety," the IOM said.

    The port is a lifeline for Misurata, where food and medical supplies are low and snipers shoot from rooftops.

    Other rescue ships are offshore but there was no news of their movements. About 12,000 people have so far been rescued by 12 ships.

    The shelling also hit Misurata's Qasr Ahmad district, a mixed residential and industrial area which houses the iron and steel works in a city that has become one of the bloodiest battlefields in the two-month conflict.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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