REBELS hailing the end of Muammar Gaddafi's rule in Libya yesterday warned Russian, Brazilian and Chinese companies that they may lose out on lucrative oil contracts for failing to support their rebellion.

Mr Gaddafi's fall will reopen the taps to Africa's largest oil reserves and give new players such as Qatar's national oil company the chance to compete with established European and US oil companies.

"We don't have a problem with western countries like the Italians, French and UK companies. But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil," Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager at Libyan rebel oil firm Arabian Gulf Oil Company, said.

The comment signals a potential setback for countries which opposed tough sanctions on Mr Gaddafi's regime or pressed for more talks .

SA voted at the United Nations (UN) Security Council for a no-fly zone in Libya, but then criticised the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) for "imposing a no- fly zone through military means". The other members of the Brics group of nations - Brazil, Russia, India and China - abstained from voting on the resolution.

Efforts by President Jacob Zuma, as part of a five-member African Union (AU) panel charged with negotiating a unity government in Libya, have so far failed to bear fruit.

The rebels, who have been using the cover provided by the no-fly zone to wrest control over large parts of Libya and to move on the capital Tripoli at the weekend, have promised to reward the countries that supported them.

The rebels have secured some key government buildings in Tripoli in their final push to end the four-decade, autocratic rule of Mr Gaddafi, whose whereabouts are shrouded in mystery. The rebels said they had captured three of his sons.

Shares in Italian firm Eni, a top producer in prewar Libya, gained as much as 7% yesterday, as its chairman said Libyan oil and gas flows could restart before the European winter.

Brent oil futures fell just over $1 a barrel on the anticipated resumption of Libyan exports.

Libya's former top oil official, Shokri Ghanem, who defected from Mr Gaddafi's government in May, said some Libyan oil output would restart in a few months but it would take up to 18 months to return to prewar levels.

About 75 Chinese companies operated in Libya before the war, involving about 36000 employees and 50 projects .

Russian companies, including oil firms Gazprom Neft and Tatneft, also had projects worth billions of dollars in Libya. Brazilian firms such as Petrobras and construction company Odebrecht were also in business there.

"We have lost Libya completely," Aram Shegunts, director- general of the Russia-Libya Business Council, said. "Our companies will lose everything there because Nato will prevent them from doing business in Libya."

SA yesterday pledged to assist with the reconstruction of Libya "with the imminent fall of Col Gaddafi", but fell short of recognising the rebels as the official interim government, as countries across Europe were doing.

"As far as we are concerned, if this government (Mr Gaddafi's) falls there's no government," International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said at a news briefing in Johannesburg.

"But we know that there were plans afoot in line with the interactions that the South African government has been having with both the Transitional National Council in Benghazi and Tripoli towards forming a transitional government in Libya," she said.

"SA pledges to make a contribution to the reconstruction and development of Libya."

She denied SA had sent two aircraft to Libya to evacuate Mr Gaddafi and his family to a neutral country. An aircraft had been chartered to fly to neighbouring Tunisia to evacuate embassy staff in Tripoli, Ms Nkoana-Mashabane said.

A foreign policy analyst said SA's calls for the creation of a transitional government in Libya were "idealistic". Tom Wheeler, of the South African Institute of International Affairs, said: "It's unlikely that the Transitional National Council would want to create an inclusive government with Mr Gaddafi. It (inclusive government) worked in SA because the Nationalist government wanted a negotiated settlement - which is not the case with other African countries."

Mr Zuma is set to meet the other members of the AU committee on Libya on Thursday at an undisclosed location. The leaders of Mauritania, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Mali are also on the committee.

The meeting will be followed by a session of the AU Peace and Security Council on Friday to discuss the dramatic developments in Libya.

The International Criminal Court's (ICC's) prosecutor said he had contacted the rebels, but needed more talks to determine how to transfer arrested suspects such as Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to The Hague. The ICC issued arrest warrants for Mr Gaddafi, his son Saif and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al- Senussi in June on charges of crimes against humanity after the UN Security Council referred the Libyan situation to the court .

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno- Ocampo said he held talks with the National Transitional Council yesterday about its efforts to stabilise the situation in Tripoli and to establish security, and he was committed to support these efforts.

Mr Gaddafi was a hunted man yesterday as loyal remnants of his forces made last-ditch stands in Tripoli. His tanks and sharpshooters appeared to hold only small areas, including his Bab al-Aziziya compound. In a last, defiant, audio broadcast on Sunday before state television went off the air, he said he was still in Tripoli, and would stay "until the end". With Reuters

langenil@bdfm.co.za