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18th Aug 2019

Former Libyan pilot questions effectiveness of Nato airstrikes

Ghasm Nagaa, a former Libyan airforce pilot living in Belgium for five years and now part of the opposition abroad, has questioned the effectiveness of Nato airstrikes and called on the EU to stop pro-Gaddafi forces before they enter cities and massacre civilians.

"The Nato airstrikes are not enough. They allow Gaddafi troops and mercenaries to enter inside the cities, the snipers to get into buildings, hiding and attacking civilians on the streets," Nagaa told the EUobserver in a video interview on Wednesday (20 April).

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  • Airstrikes are not enough to prevent Gaddafi massacres, says Ghasm Nagaa (Photo: Defence Images)

"Libya is a very big country and these forces should be attacked before they enter into cities. Why do they let them enter the cities? This is the question for the EU," he said.

Western troops on the ground, however, remain a controversial option for the Libyan opposition. Asked if he supported this idea, Nagaa said: "At this time Libyans need more weapons, more strikes and humanitarian help - that's enough for the moment."

As for the exiled crown prince of Libya, Mohammed el Senussi, who for the past 13 years has been living in exile in London, Nagaa hesitated to say whether he would be a credible figure if he was to lead the country after Gaddafi.

"No, I think the ultimate decision lies with the people in Libya. Nobody can decide on behalf of six million people," he said.

El Senussi on Wednesday spoke to MEPs and journalists in the European Parliament in Brussels at the invitation of the British Conservatives.

He insisted he would respect any decision of the Libyan people, were they to choose a republic over a monarchy in a post-Gaddafi future.

"Building a state out of the chaos that Gaddafi leaves behind will be a challenge. But Libya has a good credible basis on which to go forward - we had a constitution drawn up with the help of the United Nations in 1951 and amended in 1963, which could form the basis of a new Libya," he told MEPs through an interpreter, as he chose to speak in Arabic.

Grand-nephew of the King Idris - the only monarch ruling the north African country between 1951 and 1969, el Senussi and his family lived under house arrest for 20 years, following the military coup led by Gaddafi which ousted the king from power in 1969. In 1988, the royal family was allowed to move to London, where the 48-year old prince has been living ever since.

Asked by a journalist what he has been doing while in exile, the prince said he disliked talking of himself "when there are people dying under bombardments." His main activity was to organise, together with his brothers, various demonstrations and conferences in Europe and the US, in support of the Libyan opposition.

"I believe that every Libyan in exile is part of opposition and carries the Libyan concern," he said, while adding that he is in regular contact with the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council (NTC), in his view an "interim form of government" which could not last as such in a post-Gaddafi era.

"When Gaddafi falls, the NTC will probably move to Tripoli and then it will organise a referendum, so that the Libyan people choose the form of government they desire," the aspirant king said. On the desk from which he was speaking, an old flag of the former monarchy was hanging. Many rebels have been waving this same flag on the streets of Benghazi and Misrata.

Unlike the former Gaddafi pilot, the prince was supportive of the Nato-led airstrikes and suggested rebels may change their mind about not wanting western troops on the ground.

"At the moment they are not in favour of this idea, but the situation on the ground is very bad, they may change their mind," he said.

Meanwhile, France has announced it will step up its airstrikes in defence of civilians, while a few dozen officers from Britain, France and Italy are to be sent to Libya to train the rebels - but not to engage in any fighting.

The EU also has planned a military operation in support of humanitarian assistance, although the responsible UN body so far has not made an appeal for soldiers to secure evacuations and medical supplies.

Oxfam, an international humanitarian NGO, on Wednesday strongly advised against such a move.

"The decision to send EU troops to support any humanitarian effort should be taken as a last resort only. We're definitely not at this point in Libya, and all other options must be looked at before Brussels should be allowed to go ahead with its plan," Jamie Balfour-Paul, a spokesperson for the group said.

Brussels based Libyan Ghasm Nagaa on Nato airstrikes

At a special conference about the future of Libya in the European Parliament with Mohammed El Senuss, the exiled crown prince of Libya, the former Libyan air-force pilot, Ghasm Nagaa questions the effectiveness of Nato airstrikes and calls on the EU to stop pro-Gaddafi forces before entering cities and massacring civilians.

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