Carving up Libya

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Tension mounts in Libya, as rebel forces prepare to attack remaining government held areas of Libya, including Bani Walid, Sabha and the city of Sirte part of the tribal homeland of dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Two weeks ago, the Libyan capital Tripoli fell, and Gaddafi fled. His whereabouts are unknown. Observers ask what role NATO will play in attempts to bring the war to an end. More NATO bomb in support of the rebel forces? Will NATO ground operations be approved?

Fighting continues on the ground. A Gaddafi son has announced that in Sirte 20,000 fighters loyal to his fathers regime stand ready to continue the battle, and have no intention of giving up (another son has announced he is personally ready to surrender if it will stop the bloodshed).

The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) the political arm of the resistance to Gaddafi admits that some 50,000 Libyans, civilians and combatants have perished since the outbreak of the civil war six months ago. Many of the lives lost are due to NATO air strikes.

When the United Nations approved the creation of a Libyan "no fly zone" it was to protect inhabitants of Benghazi in revolt against the Libyan dictator, from attack from the air. The French and British inspired UN mission relied on U.S. air power. NATO soon took official command, and in a clear departure from the original mandate have been attacking government ground forces. Rebel troops are nominally controlled by the NTC, but rely on Islamist fighters with divergent tribal loyalties.

The UN sanctioned mission to protect civilians from air strikes quickly transformed itself into a military operation to remove Gaddafi from power. Worse, the NATO bombing turned into what the UN sponsored initiative was designed to prevent: air attacks killing civilians, and destroying basic infrastructure (roads, electrical installations, and the precious water mains) needed to sustain human existence. Canada has been a supporter and participant in this military action that cannot be justified under the no-fly zone UN resolution 1973 approved in March 2011.

The population of Tripoli is living the nightmare of a humanitarian crisis: lack of food and water, poor sanitation, housing destroyed, educational facilities damaged, gasoline shortages, and armed rebel troops in the streets seeking out remaining government sympathizers. With everyday life made difficult or impossible, people are fleeing Tripoli and Libya itself.

In spite of continued raging combat, last week France and Britain hosted the "Friends of Libya" conference in Paris to help the Libyan NTC prepare for the end of hostilities; and, for the main players to conduct corridor negotiations about securing access to Libyan oil, and to position themselves with the NTC -- now recognized as the government of Libya.

France was the first to recognize the NTC as the official representative of the Libyan state, and about 40 others have followed suit. The African Union has withheld recognition of the NTC.

In Paris it was agreed that $1.5 billion in Libyan assets held abroad (frozen so as to deny Gaddafi access) would be put at the disposition of the NTC. The NTC presented its plans for creating a constitutional democracy, complete with a regime of Islamic inspired justice.

In Paris, the more than 60 countries and four international organizations in attendance agreed to meet next Sept. 20 in New York to continue work towards a program of aid and reconstruction for Libya. South Africa was notable by its absence, but Algeria, China, Russia, Brazil and Germany, countries which had been reluctant to support the bombing of Libya, attended.

While reconstruction and aid for Libya were on the Paris agenda, Western powers, France and Italy in particular, want back into Libya to secure their interests in Libyan oil. While it is being denied that oil, and not protection of civilians under the UN "right to protect" or R2P was the reason for the military intervention, reports confirm that Libya the oil producer is what interests many of its self styled "friends" including the U.S.

In 1992-93, under Gaddafi rule, the UN imposed economic sanctions on Libya for its sponsorship and support of international terrorist acts, notably the Lockerbie bombing. When Gaddafi agreed to pay $2.7 billion to victims of terrorist activity, sanctions were eventually lifted, and Gaddafi invited major oil companies back to Libya. At an early meeting Gaddafi made it know he expected the oil companies seeking oil concessions to make "donations" to offset the $2.7 billion payment he was forced to make. A few companies agreed to go along with this type of feudal arrangement, many others refused outright to pay or even to seek oil concessions under these conditions, still others accepted to negotiate.

What the Western world wanted from Libya was for the rule of commercial contract to prevail in granting oil leases. Since Gaddafi had other ideas, such as nationalizing production, creating a gold backed African currency for oil transactions, and demanding tribute from foreign companies, he lost the support of the West. The Libyan dictator was ready to turn to China or Russia for the foreign technical support he needed to modernize and grow the oil industry, which reduce his standing even further.

The initial rebel uprising in Benghazi included people close to Western oil industry, as well as traditional opponents of Gaddafi, and Islamists. In Paris it became clear the NTC has opened negotiations for the return of the Western oil companies, thus ensuring continued support from NATO. What remains to be seen is whether the NTC can bring together a government capable of drawing support from across the very divided tribal structure of Libya, whether NATO will continue bombing, or whether the UN or NATO will be called upon to provide "peace-keeping" forces in order to contain more civil war.

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