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Libya chiefs in stabilisation talks

Libya's interim leaders have held talks with United Nations and other international officials to work out ways to stabilise the country and best use billions of pounds in unfrozen assets.

The private meeting in Paris came the day after Libya's rebel-led acting government won broad diplomatic support but few concrete pledges at a summit of European, US and other world leaders.

World leaders and senior envoys said on Thursday that their nations were unblocking billions of pounds in Gaddafi-linked assets in foreign banks. That money was frozen earlier this year by UN sanctions aimed at pressuring the Libyan dictator to halt violence against an anti-government movement.

The "stabilisation team" meeting in Paris is looking in part at how to spend that freed-up money, one organiser of the talks said. A Libyan official predicted elections in 20 months, and ruled out favouritism in future gas and oil contracts.

Also being discussed is what the rebel National Transitional Council has done so far to stabilise the parts of the country they control, and ways to restore water supplies, impose security, hold elections and pursue reconciliation after months of civil war.

Members of the council have given various timelines for holding elections, but the council's representative in Britain, Guma El-Gamaty, told BBC radio: "By the end of about 20 months the Libyan people will have elected the leaders they want to lead their country."

A new constitution would go to a referendum within eight months, and a year later there would be presidential and parliamentary elections, he said.

Already, various companies are eyeing ways to take advantage of the business potential in Libya's oil and gas industry, sectors ravaged by the fighting. The French newspaper Liberation reported this week that Libyan rebels had sent a letter in April offering France control over 35% of Libya's oil in exchange for French support for the insurgents, but NTC officials and France's foreign minister denied any such offer.

Mr El-Gamaty said there was no reason that British or French companies should have priority over contracts in Libya, even though Britain and France were vocal and early backers of the rebels. "I don't think it would be right and proper to say we are going to be democratic, transparent, accountable and competitive and then start offering contracts based on favouritism," he said.

The latest meeting in Paris includes experts from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and government officials from the United States, the UK, Turkey, Germany, Qatar, France and several other countries.

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