July 29, 2011 / 10:05 PM / 8 years ago

U.N. council mulls unfreezing Libyan assets for aid

* UN sanctions committee has been deadlocked on Libya

* Envoy: UN wants to avoid repeat of oil-for-food problems

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, July 29 (Reuters) - A U.N. Security Council panel that has been deadlocked for months is prepared to release Libyan assets frozen under U.N. sanctions to purchase humanitarian aid, Portugal’s U.N. envoy said on Friday.

The two warring factions in Libya — those aligned with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and rebels fighting since February to oust him — have both asked the United Nations to free up Libyan assets to designated humanitarian agencies able to deliver aid.

Portuguese Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, chairman of the Security Council’s Libya sanctions committee, told a group of reporters there appeared to be a consensus on his committee that the requests should be approved.

U.N. sanctions committees include all 15 Security Council members and make all their decisions by consensus. The Libya committee has been hamstrung by disagreements among council members on whether NATO operations against Gaddafi’s forces have exceeded the U.N. mandate to protect civilians.

Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil have repeatedly criticized the NATO operations and called for a ceasefire. They have also made clear they are unwilling to relax the U.N. sanctions regime to make it easier for the rebels to sell Libyan oil and access funds internationally.

But Cabral said all council members appeared willing to release Libyan assets “exclusively for humanitarian aid.”

His remarks come a day after the top U.N. political official, Lynn Pascoe, told the council that the approach of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan had added urgency to the issue of getting more aid into Libya, where the situation in some cities is dire.

“Both the Libyan government (in Tripoli) and the National Transitional Council (in Benghazi) have requested the use of frozen assets to meet humanitarian needs,” Pascoe said.

Cabral said he has asked U.N. special envoy to Libya Abdel Elah al-Khatib to inform Benghazi and Tripoli that the committee was prepared to act quickly to approve specific requests for humanitarian aid in as little as five days.

He said the committee was now awaiting detailed requests from Libya.

The purchase and distribution of the aid, he said, would be handled by trustworthy and reliable institutions that can deliver the aid in a transparent manner to avoid the problems that arose in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq.

That program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil in order to buy humanitarian goods, was hit with allegations of widespread corruption. Cabral made clear they wanted to avoid such problems, though he added that the aid distribution would likely be handled by major U.N. agencies.

“We have taken that experience very much in our ideas,” he said. “We do not want an oil-for-food situation.” (Editing by Todd Eastham)

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