UK's Hague calls on Libyans to follow Koussa exit

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 31, 2011 7:51 AM

By Adrian Croft

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Thursday the defection of Libya's former Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa would encourage others close to Muammar Gaddafi to abandon the Libyan leader.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said Koussa, who flew into the small Farnborough Airport, south of London, from Tunisia on Wednesday, had been his channel of communication to Gaddafi's government in recent weeks and he had spoken to him regularly.

The former Libyan spy chief had not been granted immunity from prosecution in Britain, Hague added. There are questions about how much he knew about a 1988 airline bombing over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in which 270 people were killed.

"He said that he is resigning his post. We are discussing this with him. We encourage those around Gaddafi to abandon him," Hague told a news conference, later adding that Koussa was at an undisclosed "safe location" in Britain.

A government source said it was not clear which country he would end up in. Koussa is believed to have come to London with his son.

"His resignation shows that Gaddafi's regime, which has already seen significant defections to the opposition, is fragmented, under pressure and crumbling from within," Hague said. "Gaddafi must be asking himself who will be the next to abandon him."

Koussa, western-educated and English speaking, was involved in talks that led to the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing being released from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds in 2009.

The British government source said there were no charges pending against Koussa and that no one was seeking to interview him in this country.

Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani, speaking to Reuters at rebel headquarters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, said Koussa had blood on his hands, accusing him of involvement in killings and torture in Libya and assassinations of exiled opposition members abroad.

Noman Benotman, a friend and analyst at Britain's Quilliam think-tank, said Koussa had defected because he opposed government attacks on civilians.

"This is a very brave move by Moussa Koussa and it could potentially have a devastating impact on morale within the Gaddafi regime," Benotman said.

(Additional reporting by Angus MacSwan in Benghazi and William Maclean in London; Editing by Janet Lawrence)