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Defecting foreign minister 'a sign of things to come'?

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-04-02

Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa has in the past spearheaded Libyan efforts to cooperate with the West. Now his defection has raised hopes that other Gaddafi confidants will follow his lead, potentially bolstering the coalition’s intervention.

In the latest blow to the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa fled to Britain Wednesday evening, declaring that he no longer wished to represent Tripoli.

A statement provided by Britain’s Foreign Office spokesmen reported that Koussa had travelled to the UK under his own free will. Koussa has not been offered any diplomatic immunity from British or international prosecution.

Following Koussa’s departure, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters at a press conference that Britain encouraged others close to Muammar Gaddafi to flee. Hague went on to say, “Gaddafi must be asking himself who will be the next to abandon him”.

Defection of ex-foreign minister

A top US official called the news “a very significant defection”. That sentiment was echoed by Ali El Rishi, the former Libyan minister of state immigration, who left as the uprising began. “This is an indication that Gaddafi’s brutal rule is about to be over,” he told FRANCE 24.

The 59-year-old Koussa, who became foreign minister in March 2009 after working as chief of Libya’s intelligence agency for 15 years, has been seen as a key figure in Libya’s efforts to bridge differences with the West before the recent crisis erupted. He is credited, for example, with helping ease relations between Libya and several NATO nations -- most notably the US and Britain. Specifically, Koussa is said to have persuaded Gaddafi to dismantle his nuclear weapons programme, facilitating the end of US trade sanctions.

Before that, in 1980, the US-educated Koussa was ambassador to Britain, but was expelled after giving an interview in which he stated that he wanted to eliminate the "enemies" of the Libyan government in Britain.

Koussa ‘could be beneficial’

Now his proximity to Gaddafi has raised hopes that Koussa will be of great utility to Britain by offering authorities information that could bolster the coalition’s intervention. “No one knows the regime better than Koussa. If there’s anything to know, he should be know it,” El Rishi said. “What’s going on in Libya, where they get their arms from, where they get their support from. He could be very beneficial.”

Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s recently resigned deputy ambassador to the UN, also agreed that Koussa could potentially provide a wealth of crucial information. “He knows how Colonel Gaddafi is directing the operations against the revolutionary forces and how he behaves even inside his own closed circle,” Dabbashi told FRANCE 24. “He will be willing to give more information about the crimes of Gaddafi and what he’s been doing against the Libyan people, not just in this period of February 15 until now, but a lot of information about the crimes of Gaddafi in the past.”

As for the future of Gaddafi’s inner circle, El Rishi thinks that Koussa’s departure is a probable sign of things to come. “Now, [ministers] see the man to whom they gave absolute loyalty is not the man they thought he was,” he said. “When push came to shove, [Gaddafi] was in it for himself and his kids, and he let his country go to ruin.”

“[Koussa] saw the writing on the wall,” El Rishi noted, adding later: “The military pressure is bearing fruit.”

Date created : 2011-03-31


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