Libya’s SA ambassador defects

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Libya’s ambassador to South Africa – and Dean of the local Diplomatic Corps – has defected and is urging his long-time leader, Moammar Gadhafi to resign. In doing so he joins other foreign envoys around the world in rejecting Gadhafi’s 41-year-long rule.

“I would like for him to resign because it is in the interest of the people for him to resign,” Abdalla Alzubedi told the National Press Club in Pretoria this morning. But the long-serving ambassador said he knew Gadhafi and did not believe the long-time leader would accept calls for him to go. “He will not step down easily,” Alzubedi said, adding that he feared that will mean escalating fighting.

The South African Press Association added Alzubedi said Libyans “have been too kind and co-operative for the last 41 years. He must consider [resigning] in the interests of the country and stop killing innocent people. Alzubedi said his family had decided to remain in the North African country.

The ambassador, who has been in South Africa for 15 years, did take some responsibility for what has happened in Tripoli and other parts of Libya since the masses took to the streets on 17 February. The unrest is part of similar protests sweeping throughout the Arab world in the past several weeks,” the state BuaNews agency reports. “Maybe some of us should have done something a long time ago… maybe we should have spoken more louder but you must all understand that after speaking (against the regime), there were no chances of survival,” Alzubedi said refusing to elaborate.

In a statement released on Friday, the Libyan Embassy in Pretoria also condemned “in the strongest terms” the attacks against unarmed Libyans, BuaNews adds. Alzubedi this morning added he and his mission backed all international pressure to force Gadhafi out of office. “What is happening in our country is more than just anger, it’s an uprising in so many ways and we all have to do something to stop it,” said the ambassador.

Asked why he had not resigned like most of his colleagues, he replied that he had considered doing so but the question was, resign to whom? He said the Libyan mission in South Africa was not receiving instructions from anyone at the moment or reporting to anyone. Resigning would also mean he would not be able to serve the many Libyans in South Africa, most of them students. “It’s not an option. We need to keep operating missions to support people,” he said.

He said more than 1000 Libyan students in South Africa were currently receiving government scholarships through the mission and feared the current situation may jeopardise their funding.

Elsewhere, Libya’s ambassador to the UN, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, Friday publicly denounced Gadhafi to the Security Council, saying “Moammar Gadhafi and his sons are telling the Libyans: ‘Either I rule you, or I kill you.'” Ali El-Assawi, who up until last week was Libya’s ambassador to India, expressed outrage at his country’s use of fighter aircraft to bomb civilians in his home capital, Tripoli. Both resigned their posts, as have the Libyan ambassadors to the US, France, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Sweden, Jordan, the European Union, the Arab League and others. Libyan diplomats in China, Canada, Malaysia, Australia and elsewhere have also severed ties with the Libyan leader.



Pic: Alzubedi (right) with former Foreign Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the opening of a diplomatic lounge in Cape Town some years ago. DIRCO archive photograph.