Libya’s security at risk from allies lobbying

By Chris Stephen in Tripoli (The Scotsman)

'There are advisers posted in the Libyan ministeries', says Ana Gomes, MEP. Picture: Contributed
‘There are advisers posted in the Libyan ministeries’, says Ana Gomes, MEP. Picture: Contributed

Britain has been ­placing officials in Libyan government ministries to lobby for “commercial interests”, a senior European politician has claimed.

Ana Gomes MEP, pictured right, the European Parliament’s special rapporteur for Libya, made the claim as news broke that the security operations room of the European Union’s Libya mission was captured by gunmen during the kidnapping last Thursday of prime minister Ali Zeidan.

“I know there are [commercial] advisers posted by different countries in the Libyan ministries,” the Portuguese socialist said.

Ms Gomes said Britain, France and Italy had officials in key ministries to compete for “commercial interests”.

She further accused London, Paris and Rome of sacrificing a common security policy in the interests of rival business contracts. “They don’t want a proper common defence and security policy, because they want to go about their own business,” she said.

UK ambassador to Libya, Michael Aron, denied British officials in Libyan ministries lobbied for businesses. “We have a number of advisers in the interior, defence and justice ministries, at the invitation of the Libyan government. They are specifically excluded from commercial work,” he said.

He admitted Britain did have an official lobbying for UK defence contractors at the embassy, saying: “We do have in the embassy one person for the defence sales organisation, whose job is to promote defence exports.”

Recent months have seen France and Italy ship armoured vehicles to Libya, while UK security firms staged a defence equipment fair for British companies aboard a Royal Navy warship moored in Tripoli in April.

Full details of the equipment on offer have not been released. Westminster says it respects the United Nations arms embargo imposed on Libya during the 2011 revolution which remains in force.

Ms Gomes is also seeking more details from the EU Border Assistance Mission (Eubam) in Libya about the storming of its security operations room during the kidnapping of Mr Zeidan.

The mission, which advises on port and border security, is based in the same hotel, the Corinthian, as Mr Zeidan, and while hunting for the PM militiamen took over the operations room of the EU’s private security company, Argus Security Projects, disabling equipment.

The 40 EU staff locked themselves in their rooms but EU officials insist none were targeted, and armed guards remained to protect them. “None of the Eubam personnel were harmed or threatened. Nobody entered our offices but they did enter our security provider offices,” said an EU statement.

“I didn’t know about this incident with Eubam,” said Ms Gomes. “We need an inquiry.”

Mr Zeidan was held for six hours last Thursday by militias before being released by local people who stormed the police station where he was being kept. He has blamed five unnamed congress members for organising what he said was a “coup”.

Last year Brussels scrapped a multi-million pound security contract for its Tripoli mission with British firm G4S after the company failed to get a licence from Libya. The EU says a new security contractor will begin work in November, deploying 54 guards, 18 armoured jeeps and a field ambulance. Last year US ambassador Chris Stevens was killed when the American consulate in Benghazi was stormed by militiamen.

The past few days saw a car bomb detonate outside the Swedish consulate in Benghazi and the Maltese consul flee the city after getting death threats.

Westminster has offered to train Libyan army units at a base in Cambridgeshire, but Mr Zeidan said on Friday that congress had refused to authorise the £3 million payment to the UK for the training.

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