British firms have been urged by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to head to Libya to secure contracts for its reconstruction.
With the military campaign all but over, Mr Hammond said sales directors should be “packing their suitcases” if they wish to grasp the opportunities offered by the need to rebuild the country.
Trade Minister Lord Green has met British businesses to discuss potential opportunities in the wake of the conflict and United Nations staff are already working in Tripoli to help assist authorities with restoring public security, plan for elections and assist humanitarian agencies in restoring key services such as water supplies.
Mr Hammond said the Nato mission – in which British forces have flown 3,010 sorties – was now “pretty much complete”, although he cautioned there could still be “some little pocket (of resistance) somewhere”.
There are expectations that the Libyan interim government, the National Transitional Council, will look favourably on UK firms after Britain’s strong military commitment in support of the anti-Gaddafi rebels.
Mr Hammond said: “Of course I would expect British companies to be, even today, British sales directors, practically packing their suitcases and looking to get out to Libya and take part in the reconstruction of that country as soon as they can.”
The Defence Secretary said the Nato mission, despite initial misgivings in some quarters when Prime Minister David Cameron committed Britain to it, had been “hugely successful”.
British troops involved in operations against Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime are now poised to return home. Between 800 and 1,000 members of UK forces – primarily RAF pilots, their support crews and Royal Navy personnel – are deployed on the Nato-led campaign. Britain’s involvement has cost an estimated £300m.
The final decision will depend on the recommendation of Admiral Jim Stavridis, the supreme allied commander, and the Military Committee, the highest military organ. He revealed yesterday, ahead of talks, that he would be recommending the end of the seven-month mission,
The new British Ambassador to Tripoli, Sir John Jenkins, said he was optimistic for Libya’s future: “It will not be straightforward, there will certainly be turbulence over the next period, But I’m pretty optimistic that they are going to make something positive out of all of this.”
Stressing the potential for reconciliation, he said: “I think by and large this is a pretty homogeneous country. Clearly what happened at Sirte and Bani Walid, the fierceness of the fighting there, will have hardened some attitudes, but one of the distinguishing features not just of Libya but the Middle East as a whole is that you can reconcile.”
But calling for an investigation into the circumstances of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s death, Rupert Colville, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, dodged questions on whether Libya was capable of conducting an independent inquiry and said it was too early to say whether the panel looking at abuses in Libya would recommend a formal investigation at a national or international level.
“The dust hasn’t settled yet,” Mr Colville said, but he added. “You can’t just chuck the law out of the window. Killing someone outside a judicial procedure, even in countries where there is the death penalty, is outside the rule of law.”
Asked whether Britain backed the UN call for an investigation, Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said: “The account of precisely what happened is a matter for the Libyan National Transitional Council.”