Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to strengthen U.S. ties with Libya, promising assistance to diversify the oil-dominated economy as well as offering medical treatment in the United States for Libyans gravely wounded in the conflict.
During a 5 1/2-hour visit to Tripoli yesterday, Clinton warned against “revenge and score-settling” against supporters of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi and urged the governing National Transitional Council to include competing factions as it moves Libya toward democracy.
Libyans “deserve an economy that delivers jobs, dignity and opportunities to all, not just to the powerful and connected,” Clinton said. While the country “is blessed with wealth and resources,” it needs international expertise and technical assistance, she said.
Clinton said the U.S. is helping to find and secure missing weapons and will encourage development of industries beyond oil and provide veterans of the conflict with medical care and education.
At a town hall-style event, Clinton said the U.S. hopes Qaddafi “can be captured or killed soon” so that Libyans “don’t have to fear him any longer.”
Gunfire was heard as Clinton moved around the city.
“We recognize the bloody fighting continues,” she said. “Qaddafi and those close to him are still at large. This is not the end of Libya’s transition, it is the beginning.”
Clinton is the most senior U.S. official to visit Libya since the revolt that dislodged Qaddafi after 42 years in power. At the airport, former rebel fighters crowded around her, flashing victory signs and posing for photos.
Clinton’s visit, unannounced prior to her arrival, came four days after gun battles in the city between anti-Qaddafi fighters and his loyalists. It was the worst violence in the capital since the NTC took charge in late August.
An ongoing struggle for Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Tripoli, has delayed preparations for a democratic transition and raised fears of prolonged resistance and disunity.
NTC officials “shared with me their plans for establishing an inclusive democracy,” Clinton told reporters after meetings that included Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and Finance and Oil Minister Ali Tarhouni. “We agreed that the Libyan people deserve a nation governed by the rule of law, not the whims of man,” she said.
Libya’s interim ruling council has proposed holding elections for a 200-member national congress eight months after the end of hostilities. The congress would draft a constitution, setting the stage for multiparty elections.
Clinton said it’s a priority to merge the various former rebel forces into a unified military structure. The former rebels needed to build a “just Libya that turns to accountability and reconciliation, not revenge and score- settling in places like Sirte and Bani Walid,” she said.
Clinton said the U.S. will give as much as $10 million in additional aid to help locate and disable weapons and munitions. The U.S. has warned that looted shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles may be sought by terrorist groups. The U.S. estimates Qaddafi acquired some 20,000 of these weapons over the past 40 years.
A State Department weapons specialist and 14 contractors, many with military experience, are on the ground assisting Libyan teams. They have helped search 20 of 36 known weapons depots and disabled hundreds of missiles, said State Department officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly. The U.S. plans to increase the number of advisers from 14 to 50, the officials said.
U.S. officials said Clinton raised the issue of former Qaddafi intelligence officer Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people in 1988. Scottish authorities allowed Al-Megrahi to return to Libya in 2009 on compassionate medical grounds.
Clinton said she also discussed the economy with leaders of the ruling council, who have told their U.S. counterparts they want to broaden Libya’s economic base and eliminate the cronyism that characterized the oil industry under Qaddafi. The council has pledged to honor Qaddafi-era oil contracts.
Libya’s economy was state-run under Qaddafi. Transitional leaders say privatizing state monopolies may boost economic diversity and growth, a U.S. official said.
Visiting the Wounded
At the Tripoli Medical Center, Clinton visited several young men who had lost a limb or are at risk of losing one from battlefield injuries sustained in recent days of fighting pro- Qaddafi holdouts. One doctor implored Clinton to assist in the cases of seriously wounded patients, including a medical student who was injured in fighting three days ago and who needs specialized treatment in an overseas hospital.
“Nobody is hearing us,” the doctor told Clinton, who replied she would try to help. There are some 15,000 wounded, including 1,500 amputees, according to United Nations estimates.
Clinton announced a public-private U.S. initiative to provide parts and chemicals for Libyan medical equipment, transportation to U.S. hospitals for the most seriously wounded, and assistance in creating a computerized medical records system to track patient care, State Department officials said.
To date, the U.S. has provided more than $135 million in assistance to Libyan civilians and the rebel council, according to State Department figures.
The U.S. will be providing a $180,000 grant for Oberlin College in Ohio and archaeologists in Libya to document and assess important archaeological sites in eastern Libya, including the Greek ruins city of Cyrene founded in the 4th century BC, a UN world heritage site.
Clinton also announced plans for English-language instruction.
“Qaddafi prevented and discouraged, for about 25 years, the study of English,” retired U.S. Ambassador Charles Cecil said yesterday in a telephone interview. “So there’s a whole generation that doesn’t know English.”
English-language training will help Libya modernize and establish productive relationships with the U.S. and others, said Cecil, who served as U.S. charge d’affaires in Tripoli from 2006 to 2007.
--With assistance from Viola Gienger in Washington. Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow
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