Turkish foreign minister Ahmed Davutoglu (left) and NTC chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil addressing the press at Tuesday's news conference
Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, on Tuesday recognised Libya's rebel leaders as the country's legitimate representatives and revealed it has been bankrolling the rebel leadership here over the past month. It also vowed unconditional future support and promised them an additional $200 million in aid.
Turkey's message wad delivered in a surprise visit Davutoglu made to the rebels and NTC headquarters in Benghazi Tuesday where he met the national Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil to mark Turkey's strongest show of support yet for the opposition forces trying to push Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi from power.
Turkey, a regional power and member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, initially balked at the idea at the UN security council of military intervention in Libya in March. Before the outbreak of the anti-Al Qathafi uprising in six months ago, it enjoyed warm ties with the Al Qathafi regime with Turkish companies involved in Libyan construction projects worth billions of dollars.
Turkey made great efforts to broker a peaceful solution but failed. As such, when the revolt turned into a protracted, largely deadlocked armed conflict, Turkey switched sides and recognised the rebels who had been controlling Libya's eastern third, while Al Qathafi clung to power in the west.
In time, as a NATO member, Turkey also began to support the alliance's air strikes against targets linked to the Al Qathafi regime.
Davutoglu met with Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the rebels' National Transitional Council, in a heavily guarded government building in the city of Benghazi, the rebel's main stronghold in eastern Libya.
In a joint news conference in Benghazi Tuesday with Abdul Jalil, Davutoglu said that the Turkish people, government and officials overcame bureaucracy and transferred the funds they had promised the Libyan people in cash and directly," said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil head of the rebels' National Transitional Council during a joint press conference with Mr. Davutoglu.
Before the latest promise, Turkey has already granted the Libyan opposition $100 million in cash and another $100 million as "a gift" and promised an additional $200 million. Some of the money is to be used to improve the infrastructure of Benghazi and rehabilitate its airport. It is also carrying out humanitarian projects worth $100 million but declined to provide further details.
In his reply, the NTC chairman said that if it weren't for cash handouts from Turkey the rebels' governing body would have been unable to pay salaries and provide basic needs including food in August. Jokingly referring to the Turkish cash payments, Jalil said: "It's a new method for transferring money called the Turkish method."
The Turkish minister said that on Monday he had been in contact through a video teleconference with other members of the so-called Libya Contact Group, and revealed that the group, which includes the U.S. and other NATO-member countries, would convene an emergency meeting in Istanbul in the coming days.
Davutoglu said that topping the agenda would be a possible decision to release overseas assets worth tens of billions of dollars belonging to the Al Qathafi regime to the rebel leadership. They were frozen following U.N. sanctions earlier this year.
The Turkish official praised the leadership of the NTC, saying: "We trust the virtuous leadership of Mr. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and we stand by him and support him until the very end."
He added that NATO's operations over Libya would continue until the situation was brought under control all over the country. "We won't accept that any part of Libya be deprived of security and stability," he said.
The head of the NTC pointed out that all those who collaborated with Al Qathafi would face trial, including himself for serving four years as justice minister before the start of the uprising in February, he said.
"I will submit myself to trial for the four years I spent as a minister with Muammar Al Qathafi." Then pleaded with the Libyan people to show mercy and forgiveness.
Earlier, the Turkish visitor, said his country recognised the rebel leaders as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people. "For us, the destiny of Libya is the same as the destiny of Turkey," Davutoglu said. "I expressed our solidarity and commitment."
The foreign minister said he hopes the Libya crisis can be solved peacefully this month, before the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at the beginning of August.
Davutoglu's trip to Benghazi is being described as the most powerful signal that despite its long-time relations with Al Qathafi, Turkey is throwing its weight behind the Libyan opposition.
Earlier in the conflict, Turkey had called on Al Qathafi to withdraw from power and pave the way for "democracy and transparency."
"At the end of the day, there should be a political solution based on demands and aspirations of the Libyan people," Davutoglu said. "If there is an agreement, we will do everything for the implementation of that agreement."
Ali Al -Essawi, who serves as the rebels' foreign minister, noted that "Turkey has given us political as well as financial support and humanitarian aid."
Temel Kotil, chief executive officer of the Turkish Airlines, said his company would resume flights to Benghazi as soon as the security situation improves.
Mahmoud Jibril, one of the rebel leaders, said he would pay a two-day visit to Turkey this week to discuss the promised aid in more detail.