Thursday, August 18, 2011
Libyan Rebels Open DC Office
Rebels reopen US Libya mission
WASHINGTON — A Libyan diplomat representing rebels fighting strongman Moamer Kadhafi on Wednesday formally reopened Libya's mission in Washington and expressed hope for the release soon of billions of dollars in frozen assets.
"For the first time in 42 years, this embassy represents a free Libya," the envoy, Ali Aujali, told dozens of cheering supporters who waved Libyan flags outside the de facto embassy's offices in the Watergate Hotel.
"We're born again and we are confident that Libya is very close to (being) liberated and very close to (joining) the international community as a democratic free country," he told journalists later.
Aujali, who served as Kadhafi's ambassador in Washington until he defected from his regime in February, was again accredited the envoy by Washington last week.
The United States two weeks ago transferred the Libyan embassy in Washington to the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC), which Washington has recognized as Libya's de facto government.
Aujali said "diplomatic recognition is not an end in itself but rather an important step" toward promoting greater cooperation between the NTC and the United States.
"I am hopeful that the United States government will soon move forward with releasing the frozen assets in the US that belong to the Libyan people," Aujali said.
"We need immediate access to these resources in order to avert further humanitarian crisis, provide basic services and continuing our preparation for the democratic transition," he said.
After May talks in Rome of the International Contact Group on Libya, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to use some of Kadhafi's frozen assets "to help the Libyan people."
Around $30 billion (20 billion euros) in Libyan assets have been frozen in the United States.
The State Department said Tuesday that it was also working toward releasing frozen Libyan embassy accounts, which US officials estimate between $10 million and $12 million, and handing them over to Aujali for embassy operations.
Asked if he had control of the embassy funds, Aujali replied: "We have some money in our bank account. I don't know how much they are now."
The State Department said Tuesday that Aujali is considered charge d'affaires rather than ambassador since he represents a transitional authority.
At a meeting last month in Istanbul, the United States and other powers recognized the NTC as "the legitimate governing authority in Libya" until an interim government is formed.
The United States announced on March 10 that it was shutting down the Libyan embassy, weeks after it withdrew its diplomats from the US embassy in Tripoli as Kadhafi's forces used violence against the uprising.