15th Aug 2022

EU diplomat in Tripoli: situation looks 'almost calm'

  • US transport planes. Miozzo flew in on an Italian government jet and has met with Libyan and EU diplomats to talk about evacuations (Photo: US Army)

An EU fact-finding mission has landed in Tripoli and met with Libyan and EU diplomats to discuss the safety of European citizens still in the war-torn country.

Agostino Miozzo, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton's right-hand-man on crisis management, told EUobserver by phone from the Italian embassy in Tripoli on Monday morning (7 March): "The situation is relatively calm, quiet. There was no shooting during the night. Traffic is almost calm and there are people around. The only sign of crisis is at the airport, where there are 2,000 or 3,000 Africans waiting to go back to their countries."

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Mr Miozzo said he met on Sunday with ambassadors from the eight EU countries whose envoys have not yet left and with a senior diplomat from Gaddafi's foreign ministry.

He noted: "We had a long conversation with him [the Gaddafi official], stressing the need to support the safe departure of European and non-European citizens from the country ... He said he is ready to welcome back all the European diplomats who have left."

He added: "We don't have an EU ambassador here. So we had to come and see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears what is going on." He estimated that 200 EU citizens still want to get out while another 1,100-or-so aim to stay put.

Mr Miozzo, a former Italian aid official, said the Italian government provided an official jet and security for himself and the three other EU officials in his delegation. The EU team got visas from the Libyan embassy in Brussels and is to go back to the EU capital later on Monday.

It will not conduct any fact-finding trips outside the Libyan capital, which has seen violent protests but no heavy-fighting in recent days.

The EU team landed the same day that Gaddafi's son, Seif Al-Islam, repeated claims that foreign media are distorting the situation in the country and that the EU faces an Islamist menace if his father falls.

He said on the France 2 TV channel: "If the Europeans do not assist us, Libya could become the Somalia of the Mediterranean ... There will be pirates off the coast of Sicily, Crete, and Lampedusa. There will be millions of migrants, the terror will be at your door."

He added: "We continue to regard President Sarkozy [of France] as our friend and a friend of Libya. We were received there many times. He welcomed my father in Paris ... When your regime is strong, everybody kow-tows to you. But when things collapse, everybody says 'Bye-bye. See you'."

Conflict diplomacy

A UN spokesman on Sunday said UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in a phone-call with Libyan foreign minister Mussa Kussa also arranged for UN officials to go to the war-torn country.

For its part, the UK plans to make a second attempt to establish diplomatic relations with the opposition. Foreign minister William Hague said on Sunday: "We intend, in consultation with the opposition, to send a further team to strengthen our dialogue in due course."

Over the weekend, opposition forces captured and then expelled a team of seven British special forces (SAS) soldiers and an official from the MI6 foreign intelligence service.

Jalil Elgallal, a spokesman for the revolutionary forces in Libya's second city of Benghazi, told British daily The Telegraph that the group-of-seven arrived at night, carrying weapons, surveillance kit, multiple passports and cash in multiple currencies: "If this is an official delegation, why come with helicopters? Why not say: 'We are coming, permission to land at the airport?' There are rules for these things."

The Netherlands is still in talks with Tripoli to free two men and one woman captured by Gaddafi forces on an evacuation mission near Sirt last week.

The Dutch helicopter crew was shown on Libyan TV over the weekend together with heavy weapons they are alleged to have brought with them. The TV caption said: "The helicopter flew into Libyan airspace and landed in Sirt without any permission from the authorities and this is in violation of international law."

The EU's Mr Miozzo said he did not ask the Libyan diplomat about the Dutch soldiers. "It's not under my mandate, unless the Dutch require European assistance. But so far they are taking care of their own [people]," he told this website.

No-fly 'video games'

Some US politicians are pushing for a no-fly zone to be imposed to prevent Gaddafi's air force from attacking the opposition.

Prominent senators, including Democrat John Kerry and Republican John McCain, called for the move over the weekend. Mr McCain said it would be easy due to Libya's "antiquated" air defences and it would send the message that President Barack Obama is "serious" about telling Gaddafi to go.

White House chief of staff William Daley poured cold water on the idea, however.

"Lots of people throw around phrases of 'no-fly zone' and they talk about it as though it's just a game, a video game or something. Some people who throw that line out have no idea what they're talking about," he told press.

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