Suspicions grow about the motives of the United Kingdom and France, the primary international patrons of Libya's interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), in enabling the almost-completed overthrow of Muammar al-Qadhafi. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was not short of fine words in his March 19 statement that his country was protecting the civilian population of Libya against the “murderous madness” of a regime which, by assassinating its own people, had “lost all legitimacy.” But substantial evidence is already emerging of extensive links between major oil corporations and the British and French governments in supplying the rebels and in the reconstruction of Libya's only large-scale industry, which is oil production. An analysis in The Guardian mentions meetings between Britain's junior Minister for International Development, Alan Duncan, and the crude-oil trader Vitol, with whom Mr. Duncan had previous business connections. Meanwhile French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé has tried strenuously to rebut allegations in a letter obtained by the daily Libération to the effect that the NTC had promised French companies 35 per cent of future Libyan oil production. Prospective western attitudes towards the government-in-waiting are thrown further into question by The Independent's revelation, based on documents formerly possessed by the Libyan defector and former security boss Moussa Koussa, that Britain and the United States offered prisoners to Libya under the rendition programme in the so-called war on terror, and that the British intelligence service, MI6, provided Mr. Qadhafi with information on exiled Libyan opponents and dissidents.

Once in office, the NTC will desperately want to revive oil production as a prerequisite for further economic development, but the conditions under which it can do so will not be in its hands. It may find that the terms of new contracts are imposed by foreign companies, and that if it attempts to favour western firms over oil industries in Russia, China, and India — all of which abstained from the United Nations Security Council vote authorising military support for the uprising — then it might incur lasting opprobrium from those potentially important partners. Further complications for the new government in Tripoli could arise from the fact that its patrons, the U.K., France, and the U.S., were not nearly as hostile to Mr. Qadhafi as they would have the rest of the world believe. In addition, if the NTC goes about nationalising the country's oil industry as part of a programme of economic reconstruction, it could end up at the receiving end of western-induced regime change.

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