Britain recognizes Libyan opposition
Unfreezes $149m in assets for rebels
LONDON - Britain has officially recognized Libya’s rebel opposition as the country’s sole government authority and expelled all of the remaining Libyan diplomats loyal to Moammar Khadafy, Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday.
The decision reflects the Transitional National Council’s “increasing legitimacy, competence, and success in reaching out to Libyans across the country,’’ Hague said.
Speaking at a news conference in London, Hague said that Britain would deal with the rebel council “on the same basis as other governments around the world’’ and has invited it to send an envoy to take over the Libyan Embassy in London. He also said it would unfreeze millions in frozen rebel assets.
The moves appeared intended to ratchet up pressure on Khadafy’s regime, which has been locked in a five-month battle with rebels and a NATO-led coalition. Top British military officials had earlier warned that British forces were feeling squeezed by dual deployments in Libya and Afghanistan.
The announcements followed an agreement struck this month in Istanbul in which the Libya “contact group,’’ made up of the United States, Britain, and nearly 30 other nations, decided to grant the transitional council diplomatic recognition.
Shortly before the news conference, the Libyan charge d’affaires was summoned to the Foreign Office and told that he has three days to leave Britain and that the seven other remaining diplomats and their dependents must leave over the summer, according to a senior Foreign Office official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Libyan ambassador was expelled in May in retaliation for an attack on the British Embassy in Tripoli.
Backing up its diplomatic moves, Britain will unfreeze $149 million worth of assets belonging to the Arabian Gulf Oil Co., a Libyan company controlled by the rebel council, Hague said. The money will help the rebels pay for basic needs, including the “crucial provision of fuel’’ and public-sector salaries, he said.
Like the United States, Britain has been wrestling with how to free up billions of dollars in Libyan assets that have been frozen since the uprising began in February. Hague said that “we will work hard with our international partners in the coming weeks to unfreeze further Libyan assets.’’
British officials said earlier this week that Khadafy could perhaps stay in Libya provided he stepped down. Hague said yesterday that he would prefer if the Libyan leader left, but stressed that it is “up to the Libyan people to decide.’’
Hague also commented on footage shown on British television Tuesday of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people, over Lockerbie, Scotland. Megrahi, who was given a diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer, was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds in 2009.
Hague said the footage showing Megrahi in a wheelchair and apparently attending a political rally for Khadafy was “a further reminder that a great mistake was made when he was released.’’