Libyan Defections Raise Hopes as Rebels Struggle

April 1, 2011


U.S. and European officials say they expect more defections from senior officials in Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime and are seeking to engineer that, while Tripoli swirled with rumors of who might be next, following the defections of Libya’s former foreign minister and its ambassador to the United Nations.

Former Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa’s arrival in the U.K. late Wednesday on a private jet from Tunisia was widely hailed as the biggest diplomatic setback for Col. Gadhafi since the start of the Libyan uprising in February. Ali Treki, who served formerly as Libya’s foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations, also defected, announcing his departure on several opposition websites,the Associated Press reported.

A senior aide to Col. Gadhafi’s son, Saif el Islam, has recently been in London, leading to speculation that he may be discussing a transition or exit strategy for Col. Gadhafi. However, one person familiar with the matter on Friday said the aide, Mohammed Ismail, recently visited the U.K. but that was to see family.

This person said that diplomats took the opportunity to meet and talk with him but played down reports that he was an envoy from Saif Gadhafi.

“Gadhafi does have an envoy in London, it is the Libyan Ambassador and we talk to him often,” this person said.

The U.K’s Foreign & Commonwealth office declined to comment, saying it wasn’t “providing a running commentary on who Britain was talking to.”

Mr. Koussa’s defection to the U.K. could provide aid to those seeking to oust Col. Gadhafi from power, but he faces possible prosecution after the U.K. government said he wouldn’t receive immunity. Scottish law officials Thursday said they wanted to interview Mr. Koussa, a former longtime intelligence spy chief, in connection with the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. On Friday, families of victims of a 1989 plane bombing urged French judicial authorities to summon Libya’s former foreign minister Moussa Koussa and hear him again over a tragedy that caused 170 dead.

Some analysts say news that Mr. Koussa might have to answer for his time in Col. Gadhafi’s inner circle might put other members off from following his lead. “This puts them into a dilemma, they may not find a welcoming environment out of Libya after all,” said Azzedine Layachi, a professor of international and Middle East affairs at St. John’s University.

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