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Libyans, international experts seek means of stabilizing country as billions in funds unfrozen
PARIS (AP) ' Libya's interim leaders held talks Friday with U.N. and other international officials to work out ways to stabilize the country and best use billions of dollars in unfrozen assets following the NATO-backed rebellion that ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
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 top U.S., European and other world leaders. A Libyan official also predicted elections in 20 months, and ruled out favoritism in future gas and oil contracts.
World leaders and top envoys said Thursday their nations were unblocking billions of dollars in Gadhafi-linked assets in foreign banks. That money was frozen earlier this year by U.N. sanctions aimed at pressuring the Libyan dictator to halt violence against an anti-government movement.
The "stabilization team" meeting in Paris on Friday was looking in part at how best to spend that freed-up money, one organizer of the talks said. The organizer spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are being held behind closed doors.
Also being discussed is what the rebels' National Transitional Council has done so far to stabilize 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 Friday that "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 percent of Libya's oil in exchange for French support for the insurgents. But transitional council officials and France's foreign minister denied any such offer.
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, despite what some have suggested.
"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 favoritism," he said.
Friday's meeting in Paris includes experts from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and government officials from the United States, Turkey, Germany, Qatar, Britain, France and several other countries.
The planning ahead notwithstanding, world leaders stress that the work of war in not yet finished in Libya, especially considering Gadhafi is still at large.
Libya is gripped by water, gas, and electricity shortages. And weapons pillaged from bombed-out or raided Gadhafi military installations flow through the country and abroad ' possibly to the benefit of Islamist militants in the region.