Duelling diplomats escalate Libyan struggle

What happens when a diplomat goes rogue?

The answer is a gigantic headache for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, as his top envoys defect to the opposition, and other members of the normally tight-lipped profession talk out of both sides of their mouths.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, the best known public face of Libya in the West — and a former intelligence chief — quit his post and flew to London, breaking one of Gadhafi’s few links with the international community.

And in a move that smacked of diplomatic desperation, Gadhafi tried to appoint a controversial Nicaraguan former foreign minister and priest, Miguel D’Escoto Brockman, as his UN representative to replace defecting opposition envoys who are occupying Libya’s midtown Manhattan mission.

Ali Abdel Salam al-Treki, another former foreign minister, was named earlier to the post but defected Thursday in Cairo, the latest diplomat to bail out of the regime.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, protesters gathered outside the Libyan embassy in freezing rain, demanding the ouster of Libyan Ambassador Abdulrahman Abututa, who denounced the NATO-led attacks on Gadhafi’s forces as “treacherous” and “barbaric,” after his embassy posted an earlier website message of “utter solidarity” for Libyans when they were threatened by the regime’s violence.

The opposition’s Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi is poised to appoint a new Canadian representative to replace him.

“The Libyan community in Canada is shocked by the ambassador’s position and is urging him to renounce his support to the (Gadhafi) regime,” said a statement from the group. “It is time the Canadian government suspended the operation of his embassy.”

The department of foreign affairs says it “has not severed diplomatic relations with Libya,” although operations at the Canadian embassy in Tripoli are suspended.

“We’re in an extremely peculiar position,” says career diplomat Louis Delvoie, who has worked in North Africa and the Middle East, “Our aircraft are bombing Libya, and we still have an ambassador here in Ottawa.”

Historically, says Delvoie, that would mean a declaration of war — and automatic notice to Libyan diplomats to quit the country.

At Libya’s UN mission, things are even more confused, says veteran correspondent Linda Fasulo, author of An Insider’s Guide to the UN.

“It’s quite surreal,” she says. “The defectors are in charge, and the former ambassador and his deputy played a pivotal role in convincing the Security Council to endorse the no-fly zone resolution (to attack Libya).”

Although the UN has not recognized the opposition council as Libya’s official government, its newly-declared representatives are still ensconced in the Libyan mission, and send out daily bulletins that are translated from statements issued from Benghazi.

Meanwhile, Kusa, in a final diplomatic move before defecting, sent a plea to the Security Council for an emergency session to “halt this aggression, which is not aimed at protecting civilians . . . but rather to strike civilian sites, economic facilities and sites belonging to the Armed Peoples on Duty.”

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