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17th Nov 2018

EU gears up for post-Gaddafi role in Libya

  • Anti-Gaddafi graffiti on wall of old government building in Benghazi (Photo: Al Jazeera)

One month after France, Britain and Italy sent military trainers to help the Libyan opposition in its fight against the Gaddafi regime, the EU is about to open its own liaison office in Benghazi to give more long-term, institutional support to the Transitional National Council (TNC).

"Our vision is that the UN and the EU will play a leading role in the post-Gaddafi period. A lot of work is now gearing up on what the priorities are, the interaction with the TNC, which has been very open to this, since they have very significant capacity issues," one European diplomat with first-hand experience of the matter told a group of journalists on Wednesday (18 May).

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The diplomat, who asked not to be named, insisted that the rebels "are not a bunch of Al-Qaeda fanatics."

"There is an Islamic element in the politics of Libyan opposition at the moment, but it is a mild Islamic political trend, which is welcome and will have a role in the national dialogue which they envisage. Their focus is national, it's a liberation struggle and they are doing their best to expand representation in the Council of the cities still under regime control," the source explained.

The loose TNC, formed by some former ministers of the Gaddafi regime, but also including the very protesters who took to the streets three months ago, now has to cope with tasks such as health care, social security, food and fuel supplies, not just the military tasks for which they have received British, French and Italian trainers.

"They are quite modest in how they style themselves, not as a government, not even a transitional one, because that would bear the risk of being perceived as separatists," the diplomat said, noting that one of their main problems is "strategic communication" - getting their message out about what they can provide to the population in the war-stricken country.

"But they do have a political roadmap which involves a broad national dialogue leading to a constitution which should then be ratified through a referendum - all within a year."

The EU's role in a post-Gaddafi era would mainly be to help the transitional government with the organisation of elections and offer expertise in the drafting of the new Libyan constitution.

"Plans are now being developed as part of the stabilisation framework which covers the whole peace process, internal security, transitional justice issues, health, education - getting these systems to work is an area where the EU and the UN can do a lot," the source said.

The announcement about the EU liaison office in Benghazi was made last week in Strasbourg by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

On Tuesday, after meeting Ashton, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said that her government is "working with the EU to support the Transitional National Council, and we welcome the EU's decision to open an office in Benghazi and the ongoing EU support for humanitarian assistance."

As the incoming EU presidency, Poland is also keen on showing initiative in the region, with foreign minister Radek Sikorski last week visiting Benghazi and holding talks with the TNC, "in close co-ordination" with Ashton, the UN and the US.

"I went to Benghazi to assess the intentions and credibility of the Transitional National Council and Libyan opposition," Sikorski wrote on Project Syndicate on Sunday.

"Around the table sat improbable allies: some had been prominent officials in Gaddafi's regime; others had spent many years in prison under sentence of death. They were united in recognising that their country deserved a new start. I was reminded of Poland's "roundtable" in 1989, when Solidarity sat with the ruling communists to negotiate the end of the regime," he noted.

The EU considers the TNC a legitimate political interlocutor, Sikorski told the opposition leaders, urging them to live up to the standards of a democratic and transparent government.

"While Europe has much to offer its North African neighbours in terms of financial support, advice, and training, the region needs to find its own path to freedom and success. Let us approach this task in the best spirit of European solidarity, but also with a certain humility," the Polish foreign minister said.

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