In and Around Libya
Dmitriy SEDOV | 15.09.2011 | FEATURED STORY

In and Around Libya

The sliding of the civil war in Libya into a new phase tilted considerably the balance of forces in the country. Some of Gadhafi's supporters continue to mount stiff resistance in Bani Walid, Siret, and Sabha and at least so far manage to keep attackers out of the strongholds. A few days ago they even launched an offensive against a refinery sited in the Mediterranean city of Ras Lanuf.In other parts of Libya, the pro-Gadhafi resistance seems to be waning as his loyalists are retreating towards the porous border with Niger. According to numerous reports, convoys of armed people are drifting into Niger continuously. It also became known that some of Libya's former senior officials including Gadhafi's son Saadi fled to the country. Niger's administration is voicing concern over the inflow of soldiers from the defeated army. It should be taken into account that Niger chronically occupies the third-lowest line on the UN list of underdeveloped countries. Chief of the presidential administration of Niger Massoudou Hassoumi warned that the time to prevent disaster is running out and called for serious efforts aimed at stopping the unchecked migration and reaching a deal with the new Libyan regime over the issue, but so far the situation shows no signs of improving.

Hassoumi warned that Niger's administration would take steps to disarm the migrants unless they turn in their weapons voluntarily. Niger, however, evidently lacks resources for a confrontation with the angry mob estimatedly comprising tens of thousands of former Gadhafi soldiers who just recently escaped from the combat zone.

Some of Gadhafi's generals have already found accommodation in Niger's hotels. Niger will be sheltering Libyans in accord with humanitarian law as long as it does not receive international warrants for arresting them, but the country's administration says it will avoid contacts with VIP refuges and, as Nigerian minister of justice Maru Amadou described the official approach, will regard whatever they do as their private rescue attempts which are none of Niger's business.

The position adopted by the Nigerian administration is easily explainable. Niger is totally dependent on Western aid and in every way struggles to cultivate a semblance of democracy. Elected this year, Nigerian president Mahamadou Issoufouis a mountain engineer by training, was warmly received recently in the White House along with three other African leaders, and was praised for Niger's progress towards democracy. For him, Gadhafi's loyalists are unwelcome guests, hence Hassoumi's criticisms directed at the new Libyan regime for not complying with its obligations and failing to impose proper border control. Hassoumi complained in the past about the sway over the country of the North African faction of Al Qaeda based in the deserts of northern Niger, and now the armed Libyan refugees are rapidly becoming Niger's another headache. The threat posed by the inflow of armed Libyans may prove overwhelming for the frail Nigerian economy, and its administration is forced to ask for international assistance on the grounds that at the moment it is de facto assuming responsibility for the whole world's security.

Libya's nearest future largely depends on how the disposition evolves in Niger. If Gadhafi's armed supporters unite and gain a foothold in Niger for launching offensives in their home country, it will as a result face a protracted crisis. The new Libyan regime has profound reasons to be concerned that its hunt for Gadhafi, whose support base is not limited to a part of Libya's population, has been unsuccessful so far. The ousted Libyan leader may be able to start drawing financial and other support from the Arab and African worlds' influential forces which perceive the conflict in Libya as a Western aggression…For example, Guinea-Bissau, a tiny republic located west of Niger, seems to be emerging as a new base of the pro-Gadhafi resistance as it expressed readiness to host the ousted Libyan leader and to guarantee his safe stay.

In the meantime, the National Transitional Council is trying to take control of the country. Its head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil called for national reconciliation at a rally on September 12, urging Libyans to chose democracy and the population of Gadhafi's remaining bastions – to rebel. Abdul-Jalil acknowledged the NATO contribution to the rebels' triumph and extolled Libya's young people and women for their sacrificial roles in the revolution, pledging that women in Libya would soon be appointed as ministers and ambassadors. He also broke the news that the country's oil sector was getting back on track and its employees would receive overdue pay for two months shortly.

Somehow, the optimistic claims sound unconvincing. The Libyan economy is on the verge of collapse, the population suffers from bread and water shortages, hospitals are increasingly unable to render decent-quality medical services, and street crime is clearly on the rise. The Libyan once impressive welfare state lies in ruins, which makes popular discontent imminent. Illegitimate repressions and widespread acts of revenge against opponents of the revolution are eroding the prestige of the new Libyan regime. As for some sort of nationwide consensus on Libya's future, it is clearly missing.

It did not evade watchers that rivalries are raging within the National Transitional Council, while large groups of rebels who are still armed but no longer needed are growing into a formidable source of potential risk for their own country. The alternative for them is to either put down arms and return to their homes or to consent to a conversion into regular army forces under the Council's control. The truth is that in the majority of cases they tend to reject both options. The Amnesty International report released on September 13 underscored Libya's brewing domestic problems. According to the document, the record of Gadhafi's opponents includes the types of conduct – the killings of civilians, atrocities, and tortures - that normally count as war crimes. The report says tens of supporters of the Gadhafi regime and suspected mercenaries were executed, at times in the form of lynching, when the rebels seized the eastern regions of Libya. The inescapable conclusion stemming from the report is that the conflict in Libya created conditions for hostilities between its tribes to linger for years and that the chances for brisk settlement are slim. In fact, as of today even the victory of the forces that displaced Gadhafi is not necessarily irreversible and an epoch of chaos in Libya likely looms ahead: facing deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, the large part of the Libyan population which tends to stay politically inactive under livable conditions may yet enter the game played out in the country.

Tags: NATO  Libya