SA ‘has no problem with Libya rebels’

2011-09-17 16:03

South Africa was this week forced to soften its stance on recognising the rebels as the legitimate authority in Libya as it risked becoming isolated from the process of rebuilding the country.

Although South Africa still refuses to formally endorse the National Transitional Council (NTC) because it feels the rebels came into power through unconstitutional means, it voted in favour of a UN mission that would help restore order and help the rebels establish a government in Libya.

This week, a meeting of the African Union’s ad hoc panel on Libya chaired by President Jacob Zuma met in Pretoria and was at pains to communicate that it had no inherent problem with the rebels, but that the objection was about processes.

According to South African diplomats, the rebels may control most parts of Libya but cannot show that they fully represent the Libyan people.

In an interview with City Press, South Africa’s UN ambassador Baso Sangqu said: “How do you recognise an entity that is not yet a government? We understand there are difficulties but we still don’t know who we are working with.”

This led South Africa, along with the other members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to vote against recognising the NTC.

At least 20 other African countries recognise the NTC so a united African vote on the issue was impossible.

The SADC questioned the legality of recognising the NTC because, procedurally, such an admission to the UN must be signed by a head of state, head of government or minister of foreign affairs.

“The NTC has none of these, because they haven’t formed a government yet,” one diplomat said.

Sangqu said: “We don’t question the NTC, but the manner in which it happened made it clear it was for reasons of expediency. The SADC argued for the decision to be deferred until the NTC can show that they have put together an inclusive government, but that did not find support. In the end we lost the day.”

But in a bid not to be left out in the cold regarding Libya, South Africa did support the resolution that put together a team of UN experts to go to Libya and support the rebels in their efforts to stabilise the country.

In his address to the UN Security Council, Sangqu said the council showed “reluctance” to support the 2.5 million African migrants who live in Libya.

It is understood that part of South Africa’s reluctance to give full recognition to the NTC is the belief that the rebels are prejudiced against black Africans. However officials could not confirm this.

Sangqu also asked for the no-fly zone to be revoked and for Nato to end its military campaign so that stability could be restored.

But because there is still no clarity on the whereabouts of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, this was seen as a dangerous move.

Meanwhile, deputy international relations minister Ebrahim Ebrahim has warned that the Libyan uprising should not be seen as another chapter in the so-called Arab Spring that has swept through North Africa.

He said: “The people of Egypt and Tunisia who took to the streets demanding their freedom did so peacefully.

“In the case of Libya, what we had was an armed insurrection. It was therefore necessary for the AU to intervene to bring all stakeholders together to address the legitimate demands of the people through dialogue and negotiations.”

He warned that the conflict left Libya divided and that the NTC was unable to create a conducive environment for dialogue.

“The Libyan NTC health minister recently stated that 30 000 people were killed and 50 000 wounded in the six-month conflict,” said Ebrahim.

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