WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday pledged support for a “new Libya,” urging triumphant rebels to turn the page on Moamer Qadhafi's rule and build a secure, democratic state.
She also called on the rebels to guard weapons stockpiles and take a hard line against “extremism,” as the United Nations began releasing dollar 1.5 billion in Libyan assets earmarked for UN programs, food and basic services.
“The situation remains fluid, but it is clear that the Qadhafi era is coming to an end, opening the way for a new era in Libya - one of liberty, justice, and peace,” Clinton 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.”
She said the coming days and weeks would be “critical,” as the rebels prepared to march on Qadhafi's heavily-guarded hometown of Sirte and pressed a manhunt for the ousted strongman and his family.
The rebels' arrival in Tripoli came six months after pro-democracy protests inspired by the Arab Spring erupted against Qadhafi's four-decade rule, drawing a brutal crackdown that soon escalated into war.
The insurgency was aided by a Nato air campaign against Qadhafi's forces that Clinton said had saved thousands of lives, and the United States and its allies have recognized the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC) as the country's de facto government.
US officials hope that Libya will not go the way of Iraq, where the US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein spawned a brutal insurgency and a wave of sectarian killings that verged on civil war.
Clinton called on the NTC to ensure that the rebels fulfill Libya's treaty obligations, guard its weapons stockpiles and adopt a “firm stand against violent extremism.”
The rebels include some Islamist militants, but have insisted they want a free and democratic Libya and denied any links to al Qaeda and its offshoots.
But in March top Nato commander and US Admiral James Stavridis said he had seen “flickers” in intelligence about an al Qaeda presence among the rebels.
And Qadhafi, who has not been seen since the rebels poured into Tripoli, early on accused all the rebels of belonging to al Qaeda, in an apparent bid to play on Western fears of the global network founded by Osama bin Laden.
Clinton's statement came shortly after the rebels announced they had moved their interim government to Tripoli from their eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
It also came as the UN Security Council released dollar 1.5 billion of seized Libyan assets following a dispute between the United States and South Africa, which had feared the release of the assets from US banks would amount to international recognition of the rebels.
Neither South Africa nor the African Union has recognized the NTC.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the assets would pay for UN programs, energy bills, health, education and food, and would not be used for any “lethal or military purposes.”