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Unrest caused by ‘Al Qaeda insurgents’, govt ‘right in using force’ - Ambassador
"As in all insurgencies, the government has the right to take what action necessary to quell the insurgents," says Libyan ambassador Saadun Suayeh, attributing the unrest in Eastern Libyato ‘foreign operatives’ with ties to Al Qaeda.
24 February 2011, 12:00am
Following three days of protests by local Libyans calling him to step down and condemn Libyan Dictator Muammar Gaddafi for the ongoing violence levelled against protests sweeping Libyan towns, Suayeh broke the silence.
In an apparently calming, amicable address held behind closed doors at the Libyan Embassy, Suayeh was forthcoming with talk that the Libyan government should engage the protestors in dialogue. He said the country should draft a constitution and establish governance that is acceptable to all.
At the same time however, he dismissed the growing unrest in East Libya – where protestors have claimed entire towns – as the work of insurgents being incited by Al Qaeda insurgents, and maintained that the government is right in using force.
“What we saw in Tahrir Square, and in Tunisia, was a clear situation. But in Libya, there is something different,” he said, maintaining that Libya was witnessing “insurgency”.
Referring to Gaddafi’s defiant latest speech in which the head of the 42-year-old regime said he would not step down and stamp out all those who oppose him, Suayeh also that despite the angry tone of Libyan leader Gaddafi's speech, there is still a chance for dialogue. The speech required 'interpretation' or "content analysis", he maintained.
"I believe there is still chance for dialogue, this country has a chance to draw up a Constitution and form a government that is acceptable for all. There are still good, responsible people in control."
“I do condemn any unnecessary and uncalled for violence. I am a pacifist by nature,” he said during the press statement. “I will continue to face my responsibility as Ambassador, not because I am tenacious, but because I want to continue representing Libya,” he said. He said he had already been contemplating residing by the end of the year, but he opted to stay on.
Nevertheless, Suayeh said, he “respects” the decision of other Libyan officials who had opted to step down.
“There is a lot at stake,” Suayeh said. “There are considerable Libyan investments in Malta and considerable Maltese investments in Libya. I am the caretaker of all this,” he said, “and I am committed to taking care of the situation despite the unrest.”
Referring to the protests that have characterised the past few days as Maltese Libyans gathered before the gates of the Embassy to demonstrate against the regime, Suayeh said that while he respected everyone’s right to freedom of expression, some employees had received threats and others had admitted to him personally that they joined the protests out of fear.
During his address, Suayeh also claimed that international media was not presenting an accurate picture of the developments in Libya, citing that reports that Aisha Gaddafi (the dictator’s daughter) had attempted to flee to Malta yesterday afternoon contained “not a grain of truth.”
Referring to media reports of the spiralling casualties, Suayeh quoted official Libyan figures that placed the number of dead at approximately 300. These included civilians, police, and members of the army, he said.
Referring to statements made by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini who said that estimates of around 1,000 dead are “credible”, Suayeh said that he called up Frattini to confirm the number, but he claimed the latter had said that the figure was unconfirmed and that he was basing himself on hearsay.
Suayeh also categorically denied that bombardments by planes and artillery had taken place, adding that “I know for a fact that today, Ambassadors from many countries are being taken on a tour to see those places rumoured to have been bombarded.”
He repeatedly called on the media to give an accurate picture of the developments within the beleaguered state, and urged reporters to verify information directly by accepting an open invitation by the Libyan state to visit the affected areas themselves.
Emphasising that Western Libya is calm and that no fighting is ongoing in the region, he however conceded that in Eastern Libya, certain areas and towns were beyond the control of the government.
He also cited the Libyan foreign ministry that estimated that up to 2,500 Al Qaeda 'foreign operatives' are working in the eastern parts of Libya. They were mostly responsible for “stirring up trouble”, he said.
“What we saw in Tahrir Square, and in Tunisia, was a clear situation. But in Libya, there is something different,” he said. “If you have a state of insurgency, as it seems to be the case,” he claimed, “it is a different story. We need to find out what is going on.”
Referring to the chaos in Eastern Libya, Suayeh said that “many people instigating unrest were arrested. Libya will show that these belonged to Al Qaeda. Some young protestors were also misled. The government is ready to dialogue with them.”
Suayeh maintained that “government maintained the right to take action, as any government in the world.”
“If we end up with a divided Libya, it would be catastrophic, even for the EU,” he said. “Extremism is dangerous,” he said, referring to Eastern Libya. “There is danger of extremism in that area.”
“I believe there is a chance yet, despite the angry tone of the leader”, he said – his closest reference to Gaddafi throughout the whole address. “His speech needs a bit of content analysis,” he said.
“There is a time yet for the country to draft a Constitution, and form a government that is acceptable to all, and maybe a new flag, even now,” he said.
He appealed to the Libyan government, the Libyan protestors, and the Libyan people that “it is a time for dialogue. The future need not be bleak.” He maintained that the Libyan government would be more than willing to reform and meet the “genuine” concerns of the people.
“What Libya needs is evolution, not revolution.”
He also circumspectly hit out at the EU for being forthcoming in terms of investment and later slamming the regime’s handling of the growing protests. “Recently people (from the EU) were coming over and talking of investments, but not much talk of human rights. Everyone needs to understand that it is in nobody’s interest that the unrest goes on.”