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Libya leaders send U.N. new appeal to unfreeze funds

Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil speaks with diplomats upon his arrival at Khartoum Airport
Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil speaks with diplomats upon his arrival at Khartoum Airport

By Ali Shuaib

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Senior figures in Libya's new leadership have written a letter to the United Nations asking it to release funds still frozen three months after the country's civil war ended, the central bank chief said on Saturday.

When a rebellion broke out in February against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, the U.N. Security Council froze Libyan assets estimated at $150 billion, but the bulk of that sum remains beyond the reach of the new Libyan rulers.

Frustration at the delay has been growing inside Libya, where the interim government says it urgently needs the cash to pay the wages of public sector workers and to start re-building state institutions.

The letter, sent on Thursday, was meant to offer reassurance to U.N. member states which had expressed doubts the new Libyan leadership was united and cohesive enough to be trusted with the cash, Central Bank Governor Saddeq Omar Elkaber told Reuters.

Elkaber said he had signed the letter along with Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib and Finance Minister Hassan Ziglam.

"We need this money to manage the country," the central bank governor said on the sidelines of a conference.

INSUFFICIENT FUNDS

The freezing of Libyan assets was part of a package of sanctions intended to put pressure on Gaddafi's administration to stop attacking civilian protesters.

Gaddafi's 42-year rule ended when his forces fled Tripoli in August, and the last of the fighting in Libya ended in October when the former leader was captured and killed. All major powers recognize the NTC as Libya's legitimate representative.

Yet by late November only about $18 billion of the $150 billion in seized assets had been released by special dispensations of the U.N. Security Council's sanctions committee. Diplomats said last month that of the $18 billion, only about $3 billion had been made available to Tripoli.

Diplomats said they were concerned that Gaddafi or his family could be the legal owner of the assets, not the Libyan state, and had expressed worries about the legitimacy of the unelected NTC.

Libya can generate substantial revenues from oil exports, but these were halted by the conflict and are taking time to restore, leaving a hole in the NTC's finances.

A senior Security Council diplomat said last month the council was working to speed up the flow of unfrozen assets to Libya.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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