US Embassy Reopens in Tripoli
With a brass band playing the national anthem, the US reopened its embassy in Tripoli on Thursday. The US had abandoned its embassy in February as the uprising erupted; Muammar el-Gaddafi’s forces ransacked it. Ambassador Gene Cretz had already left last November after being “physically threatened” over his unflattering depiction of Gaddafi in cables published by Wikileaks.
As the US flag was raised, Cretz expressed hopes that Libya’s new government can eliminate the endemic corruption that had infused every aspect of the country’s bureaucracy under Gaddafi. Cretz noted that, about two weeks ago, he had been part of a State Department conference call with some 150 US companies hoping to do business in Libya.
Libya’s New Government’s Struggles and Gains
The ex-rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) has indeed made gains, though its military has yet to win control of two pro-Gaddafi strongholds, the coastal city of Surt (Gaddafi’s birthplace), and Bani Walid, where Gaddafi’s son Saif el-Islam has reportedly been sighted. Libya’s Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who is currently at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, said that he anticipates a new government will be announced within ten days.
The ex-rebel forces have gained control of Sabha, which controls access to the main road south to Niger. Sabha is Libya’s largest desert city; several key supporters of the deposed leader have fled from Libya via Sabha. Also, former prime minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi has been captured in Tunisia; he is the most senior member of Gaddafi’s government caught after the long-time Libyan leader’s fall. Al-Mahmoudi was captured near Tunisia’s border with Algeria and will be imprisoned for six months for illegal entry. Tunisia has recognized the NTC and is likely to hand him over to the new Libyan government afterwards.
Algeria has also said that it is preparing to recognize the NTC as Libya’s legitimate government.
Banned Chemical Weapons Found
The NTC reports that banned chemical weapons — 9.5 tons of mustard gas– have been found in Jufra, which is about 435 miles south of Tripoli. Libya was supposed to destroy all such weapons under the terms of a British-engineered agreement in early 2004. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had thought that Libya had stowed them away in a secret location.
NATO continues its airstrikes and says that “well within” three months it hopes that its mission will have ended. On Thursday, NATO reported that it hit four anti-aircraft guns and a vehicle storage depot as well as missile systems around Surt.
The whereabouts of Gaddafi and his sons Saif el-Islam and Mutassim remain yet unknown.
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Photo of a Tripoli military commander by magharebia