• Ashton in Benghazi. Reports indicate that Western companies are trying to get in on the 'war bonanza' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Libya rebels ask for EU money to keep the lights on

23.05.11 @ 10:35

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Rebel leaders in Benghazi, Libya have asked EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to help them pay for staff and basic services.

Speaking to EUobserver on Monday (23 May) after visiting the rebel capital with Ashton, her spokesman Michael Mann said: "Their main priority is how to get financing and how the [EU] sanctions regime can be designed so that money gets through to them ... It's important for them to pay their people, to stay solvent."

Mann added that the Transitional National Council (TNC) is "very well organised, very impressive" and noted its support for free media as a positive quality: "A lot of new media are springing up. We heard there are 55 newspapers in Benghazi alone."

Ashton on Sunday met with TNC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil and opened a three-person-strong EU-flagged mission in the city, led by Polish-origin development aid specialist Jeremy Nagoda.

"It is the symbol of the European Union being here, but also of the EU being here to stay," Ashton said in a press statement.

Mann explained the move does not add up to formal EU recognition of the TNC as the new government, as with France and Italy: "Our line has not changed. They are an important interlocutor but there is no recognition per se."

He noted that there is a "positive" atmosphere in Benghazi, with "plenty of enthusiasm among NGOs" and "ideas for the future."

Reports indicate that the city of 700,000-or-so people in oil-rich eastern Libya is buzzing with commercial activity as EU and US companies compete to enter the new market.

French oil firm Total met TNC leaders in April to discuss hiring French private security companies to protect the Sarir oil field and a refinery in Tobruk, according to the Paris-based publication Intelligence Online.

"American contractors are flooding into Benghazi, offering expertise, weapons, anything they need. The rebels have put it out there that 'If you come supply us, once we take over from Gaddafi, you guys can come in'," Robert Baer, a former US intelligence officer familiar with the region, told this website.

"It's the usual suspects, the same companies who went into Iraq. It's just another war bonanza."

In separate developments on Sunday, the EU's ambassador to Yemen and his UK and US counterparts had to be evacuated from the United Arab Emirates embassy in Sanaa after a political hand-over ceremony went wrong.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh had been due to sign a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) pact at the emirati mission to resign in return for immunity for killing protesters. But he refused to put pen to paper while mobs of armed loyalists massed outside the building.

The atmosphere in Sanaa on Monday morning is "tense" according to one Western diplomat stationed in the city. "I haven't driven to work yet, but I am checking the latest news on twitter and facebook. There are a lot of security checkpoints on the roads."

Ashton's spokesman said EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday are likely to heap scorn on Saleh but to hold out hope for the GCC pact.

"I think we can expect pretty tough conclusions given that this is the second time he [Saleh] has changed his mind at the last minute," he said. "The EU and US are very much behind the GCC plan. It's the way forward."

Catherine Ashton visits Benghazi

EUOBSERVER (22 May 2011) - EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton visits the rebel capital Benghazi to officially inaugurate the new EU-flagged mission in the city and meet with TNC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil. © European Union, 2011.

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