Qaddafi regime in uproar over rebel war chest

Kuwait and Qatar are to be major contributors to the $250 million fund set up in Rome on Thursday, with plans to tap Qaddafi's frozen assets of $60 billion.

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TRIPOLI // Moammar Qaddafi's regime reacted angrily on Friday to a NATO-led decision to provide funding to the three-month-old rebellion against his rule in Libya, describing as "piracy" plans to tap its assets frozen abroad.

The fund, set up at a meeting of the International Contact Group on Libya in Rome on Thursday, is intended to provide an emergency lifeline to the rebels, whose provisional administration has no source of financing to replace receipts from oil exports which have come to a virtual halt.

It will initially receive international donations, while blocked assets – estimated to be worth $60 billion (40 billion euros) in Europe and the United States – will be used to finance it at a later date.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose government hosted the meeting, said $250 million was already available in immediate humanitarian aid.

Wealthy Gulf states Kuwait and Qatar have pledged to be major donors.

The funds being made available are far less than the figure of up to $3 billion dollars that had been sought by the rebels but their leader Mahmud Jibril said: "It's a good start."

Jibril said the three-billion figure was in fact "a six-month budget."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the new fund -- to be managed alternately by France and Italy, the two European governments which have recognised the rebel administration -- could be up and running "within weeks."

He acknowledged that it would take longer to tap Libyan government assets frozen abroad under UN sanctions to secure a longer-term credit line as sought by the rebels.

Unblocking the assets "poses legal problems," Juppe said.

But the prospect of seeing funds it regards as its own used to finance the rebellion against it infuriated Qaddafi's government.

"Libya still, according to the international law, is one sovereign state and any use of the frozen assets, it's like piracy on the high seas," deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim told a Tripoli news conference.

Kaim said there would no let-up in the government's attempts to block off the maritime lifeline to the besieged city of Misrata -- the rebels' last bastion in the west.

"We will not allow those ships to bring arms to the city and then to evacuate some criminals," he said, after an International Organisation for Migration ship on Wednesday offloaded supplies and onloaded refugees at the city's port amid shelling by Qaddafi forces.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said that the government's two-month siege of Misrata -- Libya's third largest city -- might amount to a war crime.

"The scale of the relentless attacks that we have seen by Qaddafi forces to intimidate the residents of Misrata for more than two months is truly horrifying," said Amnesty senior adviser Donatella Rovera.

"It shows a total disregard for the lives of ordinary people and is in clear breach of international humanitarian law."

At the Rome meeting, the rebel leader outlined a political plan that would be enacted if Qaddafi leaves power in which an interim government would hold a referendum on a new constitution and parliamentary and presidential elections within eight months.

Jibril said the rebels would soon contact the United Nations to organise municipal elections in the cities it already controls as a way of showing its commitment to democratic change in Libya.

France announced it ordered 14 people who served as Libyan diplomats under Qaddafi's regime to leave the country within two days.

"France has declared persona non grata 14 Libyan ex-diplomats posted in France," the foreign ministry said, indicating Paris no longer recognised their diplomatic status.

The ministry accused them of "activities incompatible with the relevant UN resolutions... and contrary to the protection of Libyan civilians."

At the Rome meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called on the international community must do more to isolate Qaddafi's regime by expelling all diplomats loyal to him.

Britain ordered two Libyan envoys to leave London on Thursday. It had already expelled the ambassador.