Libya’s rebels announced Friday the transfer of their leadership to Tripoli from their Benghazi base, boosted by a United Nations decision to release millions of dollars in aid within days.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also pledged support for the “new Libya,” urging the triumphant rebels to turn the page on Muammar Qaddafi’s rule and build a secure, democratic state.
Ali Tarhuni, a senior official with the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), said their leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil would arrive in Tripoli as soon as the security situation permitted.
“I declare the beginning and assumption of the executive committee’s work in Tripoli,” Mr. Tarhuni, the executive committee’s vice-chairman and minister of oil and economics, told a press conference in the capital.
“Long live democratic and constitutional Libya and glory to our martyrs,” he said, announcing the holders of key posts in a new provisional government.
He called on forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi to lay down their arms, and promised they would be treated lawfully.
“Put your weapons down and go home. We will not take revenge. Between us and between you is the law. I promise you will be safe.”
The UN Security Council released $1.5 billion of seized Libyan assets to be used for emergency aid after the United States and South Africa ended a dispute over the money.
The assets were frozen in US banks, but South Africa had blocked the release on the Security Council’s sanctions committee, saying it would imply recognition of the NTC.
The last-minute accord with South Africa meant that the United States did not press for a Security Council vote. A new request was immediately made and approved by the Libya sanctions committee, diplomats said.
“The money will be moving within days,” a US diplomat said.
The new request made no mention of the NTC, only that the money would be directed through the “relevant authorities.”
Washington said Thursday the money would pay for UN programs, energy bills, health, education and food, and would not be used for any “military purposes.”
Earlier a senior rebel official said diplomats of the Contact Group on Libya had agreed in Istanbul to speed up the release of some $2.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets by the middle of next week.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome would next week release 350 million euros ($504 million) frozen in Italian banks.
In Washington, Clinton called on the rebels to guard weapons stockpiles and take a hard line against “extremism.”
“The situation remains fluid, but it is clear that the Qaddafi era is coming to an end, opening the way for a new era in Libya - one of liberty, justice, and peace,” she said in a written statement.
“There can be no place in the new Libya for revenge attacks and reprisals... Libya’s future will be peaceful only if the leaders and people of Libya reach out to each other in a spirit of peace.”
The aid announcements came less than three days after rebel forces swarmed into Col. Qaddafi’s sprawling compound in the center of the capital, defeating his fighters in fierce clashes and seizing control of most of the city.
But Qaddafi was nowhere to be found and on Thursday he broadcast a new audio message calling on the populace to take up arms.
“We must resist these enemy rats, who will be defeated thanks to the armed struggle,” he said.
“Leave your homes and liberate Tripoli,” he added in the message broadcast from an unknown location.
Col. Qaddafi’s message came as Abdel Jalil gave the grim assessment that more than 20,000 people had been killed in the drive launched in mid-February to end the strongman’s 42-year iron rule.
Half of the NTC members arrived Thursday in Tripoli to begin a transition to the post-Qaddafi era, while a rebel offensive largely cleared the staunchly loyalist district of Abu Slim after fierce fighting.
“Half of the government is here, and today we have had meetings with the military leadership,” NTC spokesman Mahmud Shamman told AFP, as rebel fighters continued to search for the elusive strongman.
Mr. Abdel Jalil said that countries which had helped the rebel cause would be rewarded accordingly in the nation’s reconstruction phase.
“We promise to favor the countries which helped us, especially in the development of Libya. We will deal with them according to the support which they gave us,” he told a news conference in Benghazi.
Beyond Tripoli, rebel commanders said they were readying a new advance against forces defending Col. Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, 360 kilometers (225 miles) east of Tripoli, and would seek to break a siege of Zuwarah, a town to the west.
The Facebook page of the Col. Qaddafi regime’s television station, which went off the air on Monday, said NATO warplanes had attacked Sirte, but gave no details.
However, an AFP reporter discovered that French and British operatives are working with rebels as they press towards Sirte, amid unconfirmed reports British special forces SAS members were sent to Libya several weeks ago.
The rebels are intent on finding Col. Qaddafi so they can proclaim final victory in an uprising that began six months ago and was all but crushed by government forces before NATO warplanes gave crucial air support.
Rebel leaders say they want to put Col. Qaddafi on trial, and he also faces charges of crimes against humanity along with his son Seif al-Islam and spymaster Abdullah al-Senussi at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
On Wednesday, the NTC offered a $1.6 million reward for the capture of Col. Qaddafi, dead or alive, and an amnesty to any members of his inner circle who kill or capture him.
Foreign workers were evacuated late Thursday on the first International Organisation for Migration boat to dock in war-torn Tripoli.
The boat, which waited offshore for two nights for the security situation to improve as the battle for Tripoli raged, transported Filipinos, Egyptians, Canadians, Algerians and Moroccans.