The “Friends of Libya” conference in Paris on Thursday achieved its stated objective, to unfreeze a whole lot of the county’s money and give it to the rebels. But we won’t know for a while which ‘friend’ came off best in the issues that really matter – Libya’s lucrative reconstruction and oil contracts, and who gets to profit from them. By SIMON ALLISON
It’s unclear if it was intentional or not, but the symmetry was nonetheless poetic. It was on Spring Day in 1969 that Gaddafi first seized control of Libya, and it was on Spring Day 42 years later that the international community sat down in Paris to officially welcome the rebels who unseated him.
The “Friends of Libya” conference was hosted in Paris by a smug Nicolas Sarkozy and a smugger David Cameron, both of whom can barely contain their excitement that – for once – they’ve backed the right camel. It was well attended, with representatives from just about everybody, including Russia and China, neither of whom have been particularly friendly to the rebels up to now. African countries though were conspicious in their absence; South Africa and the African Union were both represented by Norway at the gathering, neither able to get off the fence in time.
There were two concrete outcomes from the conference. The first, and most immediately important, was that some $15 billion of Libyan funds were immediately unfrozen. This will help the rebels pay salaries and put some cash back into a struggling economy. The second was a declaration from Sarkozy and Cameron that it would be Libya’s right to try Gaddafi if they wanted to, regardless of the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court – a slap in the face for the principles of international justice, but just what their new Libyan friends want to hear.
But the conference was never really about justice, of course. As Reuters coyly noted: “…talks on the sidelines may expose early jostling for lucrative opportunities in restoring and expanding Libya’s oil sector along with utilities and infrastructure”. There’s a lot of money to be made in the new Libya, and the “Friends of Libya” want to be making it. DM
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