Cameron and Sarkozy take lead for Libya summit

By Alex Stevenson

Representatives from over 60 countries are gathering in Paris for a major international summit on the future of Libya.

With Muammar Gaddafi having fled to neighbouring Algeria and the last pockets of resistance from Nato-backed rebel forces holed up in Sirte, attention at the Paris meeting will focus on the north African country's future.

"This is a good moment to get the international community together to take stock of the extraordinary changes we've seen in the last few days," a Whitehall source said.

Replacing the military-focused contact group, today's conference includes countries like Russia, China and India who had shied away from involvement in the UN-backed intervention.

Russia became the latest country to formally recognise the national transitional council (NTC) as Libya's official government yesterday.

It was not clear whether Brazil or South Africa, who had been invited, were planning on attending, however.

The conference is expected to offer support for the NTC and give the temporary government an opportunity to outline its priorities in the coming weeks.

Initial focus will be on helping restore basic infrastructure to Tripoli and other parts of Libya hit by Colonel Gaddafi's tactics. Medical supplies are slowly being restored, while NGOs are working to restore water to the capital.

"It's always possible to do more, but given the situation when the NTC moved in… I think they're making good progress," the Whitehall source added.

"It's difficult, but there is a great deal being done to get water in."

Yesterday the RAF flew £1.8 billion Libyan dinars (£950 million) to Benghazi, after the UN agreed to unfreeze the assets. These will be used to fill up ATMs and pay the salaries of public sector workers for the Eid holidays.

"Returning money to the Libyan people is part of our commitment to help the NTC rebuild Libya and help create a country where the legitimate needs and aspirations of the Libyan people can be met," foreign secretary William Hague said.

"It follows and was authorised by the UN’s decision to unfreeze 1.86 billion Libyan dinar banknotes printed in the UK. Further deliveries of the remaining funds will be made shortly."

Britain is keen to re-establish its business links with Libya, especially the terms of its oil company deals.

"British oil companies have been major players in Libya and I'm sure they'll want to get back in there," the Whitehall source said.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton will be present at the summit, but Barack Obama's administration has taken a back seat in involvement in the intervention.

The summit, scheduled to begin later this afternoon, will be co-chaired by prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Other attendees include the King of Jordan, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates and the Canadian prime minister.

It is expected that the conference will be a one-off. But the UK is keen to see the formation of a 'friends of Libya' group at the UN, which would be expected to have a smaller membership.

Today's conference may also examine the possibility of a further UN resolution on Libya, replacing resolution 1973 which authorised military action short of a ground invasion to protect Libyan civilians.