Libyan rebel leadership set to reject Moussa Koussa in mediation role

Benghazi's interim ruling council unimpressed by former foreign minister's scaremongering statement

If Moussa Koussa wanted to win the confidence of the revolutionary leadership in Benghazi to act as a mediator in Libya's uprising he would have done well not to have warned that the country risks becoming a "new Somalia". Libya's rebel leadership scoffs at what it regards as scaremongering by Koussa in his statement, read on the BBC, which also called for a democratic dialogue in order to avoid the division of the country. All of that sounded remarkably like the views of Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, to the rebels.

Koussa did not say that Gaddafi should resign, raising questions for the rebels about how far the former foreign minister has distanced himself from the regime and his value as a mediator, after Britain permitted him to travel to Doha for an international conference on the future of Libya that includes members of the revolutionary leadership.

The interim ruling council in Benghazi has yet to formally respond to the news of Koussa's presence at the Doha talks. But Essam Gheriani, a member of the revolutionary coalition, said that he could not see any role for Gaddafi's former foreign minister.

"If he tries to act as mediator, it's going to be futile, a wasted effort. Our conditions have been repeated more than once by the provisional council that any proposal would have to include the removal of the Gaddafi family altogether and their departure from Libya. That is the only proposal that would even be considered for negotiations," he said. "I do not think that any mediation role between our forces and the Gaddafi regime would be considered. There's no way."

Gheriani said he personally had no problems with Koussa leaving the UK, a view likely to be echoed by the revolutionary council which studiously avoids criticising the western countries it is relying on for support.

"It's a British decision. We have to respect whatever factors came into reaching this decision. He is a defector from the Gaddafi regime. We don't know yet what kind of information he provided. It's something that has totally to do with the British," he said.

The rebel council has made it clear that it welcomes anyone from the Gaddafi regime who decides to join the revolution. But it will view with scepticism any such move by Koussa, who is particularly distrusted because of his 25 years as probably Gaddafi's closest aide outside of his family and his years at the head of a feared intelligence organisation.

That scepticism is likely to be reinforced by Koussa's statement calling for a dialogue between the rebels and the regime, which the revolutionary council views as an attempt to buy time by Gaddafi.

While Koussa will be publicly welcomed by the revolutionaries if he decides to jump across, its leadership has made clear that he should be put on trial once Gaddafi is toppled.

The revolutionary council has previously said that it believes Koussa should pay for his crimes, in particular as intelligence chief when he allegedly ran a hit squad to murder Gaddafi opponents in exile.

The rebels believe they have first claim on Koussa if he is to be put on trial and would like to see him returned to Libya to face accusations of murder and crimes against humanity once Gaddafi is gone. The council has said there is documented evidence of his part in killing and torture, and it is strongly opposed to any suggestion that he be given amnesty in return for defecting and working against Gaddafi.

"For his participation in the regime for such a long time, I'm sure that everybody agrees that the voice of the people is that he be brought to trial," said Gheriani. "Moussa Koussa is one of those who participated the greatest in all the criminal activities that were carried out by the regime." But the rebels are not in a hurry. They are not pressing for Britain to arrest him, saying they recognise the value in having Koussa free in order to encourage other senior officials in the Gaddafi regime to defect to the west.

The revolutionary council hopes that Koussa's defection is evidence of the regime crumbling from within given that it is clear the rebels are a long way from defeating Gaddafi by force.

Chris McGreal Benghazi


Chris McGreal in Benghazi

The GuardianTramp

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