Clinton: Allies looking for ways to fund Libya rebels

BERLIN Sat Apr 16, 2011 5:12am EDT

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a memorial service for the late U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the American Academy in Berlin April 15, 2011. REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a memorial service for the late U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the American Academy in Berlin April 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Saul Loeb/Pool

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday that NATO allies were searching for ways to provide funds to Libya's rebels.

"The opposition needs a lot of assistance, on the organizational side, on the humanitarian side, and on the military side," Clinton told reporters after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin.

"There have been a number of discussions about how to best provide that assistance ... who's willing to do what. We're also searching for ways to provide funding to the opposition so that they can take care of some of these needs themselves."

Clinton said that as well as looking at how to free up assets that could be used by the Libyan rebels, allies were looking at how the rebels could sell oil from sites that were under their control.

Clinton said the NATO allies were "learning more all the time" about the opposition. "We are pooling our information. There are a number of countries that have significant ties to members of the opposition," she said.

The opposition Libyan National Council (LNC), with the help of OPEC member Qatar, has said it has been able to export only a "minimal" amount of crude oil and needs international help to continue overseas shipments.

Rebel efforts to secure supplies have been complicated by international sanctions against Libya. Although the rebels have been unofficially excluded from the sanctions regimes, Western firms remain reluctant to do business with the LNC.

Qatar, which is marketing the rebels' crude, said on Tuesday it had smoothed the sale of one million barrels of oil this month, arranged the shipment of four cargos of fuel to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and was ready to back more transactions.

Clinton also referred to street protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which swept into the capital, Damascus, on Friday for the first time.

"We call upon the Syrian authorities once again to refrain from any further violence against their people," she said. "It's time for the Syrian government to stop repressing their citizens."

Clinton said the United States saw no evidence that Iran had instigated protests in the Middle East.

"But we do see activities by Iran to try to take advantage of these uprisings, they are trying to exploit unrest. They are trying to advance their agenda in neighboring countries. They continue to try to undermine peace and stability, to provoke further conflict," she said.

A U.S. official said on Thursday that there were signs Iran was helping Syria put down anti-government protests with advice on monitoring and blocking Internet use, training security forces and supplying riot gear.

Rights groups say at least 200 people have died in protests that have posed the greatest challenge to Assad's 11-year rule.

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