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UN expected to vote this week on resolution to free up frozen Libya assets
LONDON (AP) ' The U.N. Security Council will vote this week on a resolution releasing billions of dollars in frozen Libyan assets, a British official said Wednesday.
Council diplomats said they plan to circulate a draft resolution drawn up by France, the U.S. and Britain later Wednesday that would free up seized Libyan funds to help the country's opposition establish their leadership and pay for vital medical and humanitarian supplies.
"We are engaged at the United Nations and elsewhere to pave the way for the unfreezing of assets, the assets that have been frozen for five months but which ultimately belong to the Libyan people," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters.
Britain, the U.S. and the European Union have called for the quick release of assets to help the opposition National Transitional Council rebuild the Libyan economy, restore essential services, reform the police and the army, and pay government salaries.
The head of Libya's opposition government, Mahmoud Jibril, was holding talks in France later Wednesday with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Tentative discussions have also begun on a second resolution to cover the U.N.'s mandate in Libya ' which currently authorizes the NATO-led air campaign to protect civilians from attack, said a British official, who demanded anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said the U.K. hopes to release about 12 billion pounds ($20 billion), while the U.S. says it will soon give Libya's opposition between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in frozen regime assets.
The U.S. and its allies have been trying for more than two weeks to get the Security Council committee that monitors sanctions against Libya to agree to unfreeze the assets. The decision to lift the sanctions must be unanimous among the 15 nations.
Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions have been private, said all council nations agreed except South Africa, so the U.S., Britain and France decided to introduce a resolution instead.
"We expect it to have the necessary support to pass," a U.S. diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
South Africa's U.N. ambassador was not immediately available to comment.
French officials said Jibril was in Paris mostly to discuss the decisive final stages of Moammar Gadhafi's regime and lay the groundwork for a meeting in Paris next week to discuss ways the international community can help Libya move to the post-Gadhafi era.
Sarkozy, who championed the costly NATO airstrike campaign against Gadhafi's forces despite a stalemate in recent months, lauded the oft-criticized military alliance.
"The tenacity of the allied forces paid off," he told a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, according to government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse.
France was the first country to recognize Jibril's government and has been a driver of the NATO airstrike campaign against Gadhafi's forces. "The end appears inevitable and near," Pecresse told reporters in Paris.
As nations ' and companies ' jostle for favor with the new rebel regime, officials acknowledged that Libya's opposition has forged strong ties with those who backed the campaign to topple Gadhafi.
"Many, many countries have been very resolute and strong in coming out and siding with the Libyan people from day one ' and I include in that the British government," Guma El-Gamaty, a British-based coordinator for the National Transitional Council told BBC radio. "There are other countries who have been very slow, and, if you like, only came around very, very late ' countries like China and Russia."
He also said Libya was likely to improve its ties with the United States.
"Gadhafi's relationship with the (United) States was very erratic," El-Gamaty said.
China, which abstained from the U.N. resolution authorizing force against Gadhafi's forces in Libya, said Wednesday that it now wanted to take a role in post-conflict reconstruction.
Saket Vemprala, an analyst at the London-based Business Monitor International, said he believed Libya's incoming regime wouldn't likely restrict itself to current allies when it came to awarding new contracts, and may be open to striking deals with Russia and China.
"I think the most likely outcome is pragmatic dealmaking from the National Transitional Council," Vemprala said.
El-Gamaty also confirmed the interim government would stand by commercial deals with foreign companies signed by Gadhafi's regime. "They will be honored," he said.
Keaten contributed from Paris. Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Angela Charlton in Paris also contributed to this report.