22nd Jan 2022

Libya in shuttle diplomacy ahead of EU summit

  • Colonel Gaddafi is sending his envoys to former friends (Photo: gordontour)

As fighting continues in Libya, envoys of both the Gaddafi regime and the newly-formed rebel leadership have travelled to Europe for last-minute diplomacy ahead of a Libya summit in Brussels on Friday (11 March).

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to meet in Paris on Thursday two envoys from the Provisional Transitional National Council. The meeting will "discuss the general situation in Libya, and in particular the humanitarian situation and the actions of the Libyan National Council," an Elysee statement said.

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The talks come one day after Mahmud Gebril, a former Gaddafi minister turned opposition leader, urged the EU in Strasbourg to "paralyse" Gaddafi's air force and to recognise the opposition as a legitimate political power.

A defiant Colonel Moammar Gaddafi has sent his own envoys to three EU countries: Portugal, Greece and Malta. Portuguese foreign minister Luis Amado on Thursday said his message to envoy was that "the Gaddafi regime is over" and that he also met with opposition members. Portugal is chairing the UN sanctions committee, this being the reason why it agreed to see the Libyan officials.

The Gaddafi envoys also tried but failed to arrange meetings in Brussels, where EU foreign ministers and Nato defence ministers are meeting on Thursday to discuss further measures, including a controversial no-fly zone.

For its part, the European Parliament on Thursday is expected to give a green light to the "principle" of having an internationally enforced no-fly zone in Libya.

The move requires a "clear legal basis" - preferably from the UN Security Council - but China and Russia are so far reluctant to back military intervention.

Nato could go ahead with a no-fly zone by itself, as it did in Serbia in the 1990s. But it needs proof that its forces are needed on the ground and that there is enough "regional support" from neighbouring countries in the Arab League.

Gaddafi on TV on Wednesday warned that his people would "fight back" and hit Western countries if a no-fly zone is imposed.

Ahead of their European tour, the Gaddafi envoys stopped in Egypt to deliver a letter to the Arab League, according to Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini.

Meanwhile, a joint letter by British foreign minister William Hague and his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle has urged EU leaders not to co-operate with the regime.

The letter, sent to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, says the Union should adopt a united front on Libya and tell Gaddafi that he "has to step aside to allow for a true democratic transformation of the country."

On the ground, government forces are using heavy artillery in a bid to gain control over the western town of Zawiya, 50km from the capital Tripoli.

A BBC crew trying to reach Zawiya was detained and beaten by Gaddafi soldiers on Monday. During their detention, the BBC team saw evidence of torture against Libyan detainees, hooded and handcuffed, many of whom were from Zawiya.

A senior Libyan government official apologised for the BBC incident after they were set free one day later.

The Libyan government has restricted the movements of foreign journalists based in Tripoli and says they must only travel with official escorts.

The story was updated at 15.55 to include comments of the Portuguese foreign minister.

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