UK and France to blame for chaos in Libya, says presidential hopeful

Former interior minister Fathi Bashagha claims ‘lazy’ UK failing in moral responsibility after 2011 Europe-led regime change

The UK has been distracted by Brexit and “lazy” in fulfilling its moral responsibility to pull Libya out of the chaos that enveloped it after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, a leading presidential candidate claimed.

The candidate, Fathi Bashagha, a former interior minister, who narrowly failed to become prime minister of an interim Libyan government in a UN process in February, said the UK had a special duty to come to Libya’s aid given David Cameron’s role in the country’s 2011 regime change.

Libya is due to hold a general election on 24 December, the 70th anniversary of its declaration of independence, but there are attempts to delay the polls. Bashagha, who hopes to be elected president, said the west should stand up and support the holding of fair and free elections.

“The UK has been cooperating with Libya only in the field of the fight against terrorism but in all the other fields we might say that Britain has been lazy,” Bashagha said during a visit to Brussels, where he met EU and Belgian foreign policy officials and MEPs, including Nathalie Loiseau, a former European Affairs minister in France close to Emmanuel Macron. “It’s not what we were expecting from Britain. We might have justified it to a certain extent this position because of the Brexit, but now there is no excuse.”

Bashagha added: “I think that, in fact, Europe is morally and legally responsible for everything that’s happened as of 2011 and especially the UK and France, because this international mobilisation took place at the initiative of these two countries.”

Libya has been riven by civil war since France, the UK and US intervened to help end Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in an intervention that Barack Obama described in a 2016 interview as a “shit show”. Obama went on to lament that Cameron, the British prime minister at the time, had become distracted from the job of Libya’s reconstruction “by a range of other things”.

Since 2014 Libya has been split by warring administrations supported by Turkey in the west and Russian mercenaries in the east.

Bashagha said attempts to engage Theresa May in Libya’s crisis had failed as “Britain was very busy with the Brexit process”; there were only some weak signs of interest from Boris Johnson’s administration. “It was not what we were hoping for,” he said.

As part of a UN-backed programme after the signing of a ceasefire last October, Libya is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections at the end of 2021.

Bashagha said that those opposed to the polls referred to the continued presence of foreign fighters as a reason to delay the election. But, he said: “You think of the wages the head of the government receives, the answer is self explanatory. It is true that the new government, which is now in power, wouldn’t like to see the elections happen.”

Bashagha’s efforts to win round the west to his leadership has struggled because of a perception that he is too close to the Muslim Brotherhood and to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose military helped put the renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar and his Russian-backed forces on the back foot when they sought to overthrow the UN-recognised government of national accord.

“I will say yes, we have excellent relations with Turkey and the same goes true for the US,” said Bashagha. “Haftar resorted to the mercenaries and to the Wagner [the Russian mercenaries] and that is why we resorted to Turkey … We first went to Europe but because each and every country had its own concerns, its own problems, so they didn’t hear.”

Bashagha was the subject of an assassination attempt in February when three men open fired on his convoy with a machine gun. Two were arrested and a third was killed by Bashagha’s security. “It was groups because I was against the armed factions, I was against terrorism, I was fighting these forces and groups,” Bashagha said.

The presidential hopeful had, however, his own close links to armed groups in his home town of Misrata, he admitted. “Of course I know them all because some of them are good people and in fact we have been fighting together,” he said. “Not all of them are wicked and they never organised an attack of aggression against the state. It is true they have got weapons but they use the arms when asked for by the government when fighting terrorism. Naturally, I have good relations with them. Because they are always ready to obey. But those who use their guns against the state cannot count on my friendship.”


Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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