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Libyan-Canadians press Ottawa to release billions in frozen funds

Anti-Gaddafi fighters walk in Burkan air defense military base, which was destroyed by a NATO air strike, September 1, 2011.

GORAN TOMASEVIC/Anti-Gaddafi fighters walk in Burkan air defense military base, which was destroyed by a NATO air strike, September 1, 2011. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

The Libyan-Canadian community is pressing Ottawa to move more quickly to unfreeze billions of dollars in Moammar Gadhafi's regime assets and send them to Libya's transitional government.

After the United States and Britain successfully applied to the United Nations to unfreeze some of the assets frozen in their countries, Libyan-Canadians say it's time for Ottawa to release the money, which they say totals $3.5-billion.

At a press conference with Liberal Party interim leader Bob Rae, the president of the Canadian Libyan Council, Sal Elgheriani, said Canada is doing all the right things, but keeps waiting for the great powers – the U.S., Britain, and France – to act first.

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Canada, like most other western nations, froze all assets of the Libyan government in response to a UN Security Council resolution. But now that the rebels, under the umbrella of the Transitional National Council, have seized control of Libya's capital, countries have made new moves to unfreeze sums to help the new interim government.

Mr. Rae said Canadian officials told him that both the U.S. and Britain have successfully applied to the UN to have some sums released to the transitional government. "So it's possible to do it, and there's no reason Canada must be last in line," he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has said in recent months that he wants to move quickly to unfreeze funds when it's possible – although he said that won't be possible as long as the transitional council was not in power and the UN resolution remained in place. It's not clear when Canada will apply to unfreeze the frozen assets.

He also called on the government to match donations for humanitarian relief in Libya. So far, the Libyan-Canadian community has raised just under $4-million to support efforts to send doctors and other medical help. Many of the 400 to 600 Libyan-Canadian doctors have travelled to their native land since February to help provide care for the injured.

Mr. Elgheriani said the Libyan community believes that Canada should make health-care assistance for Libya a top priority – including specialized care for complicated cases now, and long-term aid to help the nation rebuild a chaotic health-care system.

There are enough doctors, he said, but some complicated cases need to be treated outside the country, and he wants Canada to volunteer to bring some injured Libyans here. Another Libyan-Canadian doctor, Dr. Abdulhafid Ali, said there is an urgent need for some specialized care for the 1,500 amputees who need prosthetic limbs.

They called for Canada to take a leading role in helping build its health-care system. Dr. Khaldoon Naemi, who just returned from a 10-day trip to Libya's west, said he doubts that the country's hospitals will be able to cope with all the injured, and the transitional government will need help with infrastructure and hospitals.

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"Basic infrastructure does not exist at all – electricity, water, communications. Hospitals are in bad shape," he said.

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