Libyan Islamist military leader wants democracy

Commander of Tripoli forces wants democratic "civil state"; Tripoli fighters to be integrated with police; Belhajd requests UK apology for rendition.

By REUTERS
September 19, 2011 10:22
4 minute read.
Abdel Hakim Belhadj

Belhadj 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous/Files )

TRIPOLI - Tripoli's military commander, an Islamist whose rise to prominence is being watched closely by the West, said on Sunday he wanted to build a democratic "civil state" in Libya in remarks that laid out an inclusive political vision after 42 years of despotism under Muammar Gaddafi.

In a Reuters interview, Abdel Hakim Belhadj added that he expected Gaddafi's complete defeat very soon, and that Tripoli was stabilizing gradually in a process that would lead eventually to the return to the streets of a police service open to revolutionary fighters who sought to participate in it.

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Dressed in military fatigues and seated on a sofa in a reception room at an upscale Tripoli hotel, the soft-spoken Belhadj, in his late 40s, reiterated that he wanted an apology from Britain for what he said was its role in transferring him to Libya under Gaddafi, a move he said violated his human rights.

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Asked if there was room for all political shades of opinion in a future Libya, he replied: "Libya will be built by all Libyans."

"They have a big challenge, which is building a democratic and modern, civil state with rules, governed with justice and equality."

"As for the form of the government, this depends on Libyans' choice. Democracy has more than one form. The most important thing is whoever rules, rules justly and gives opportunity to the people without dictatorship, even if it is wrapped with democracy."

WESTERN ANXIETIES

There have been anxieties among Western officials about apparent rifts between rival factions, including Islamists possibly backed by interests in the Gulf, in the ranks of the country's National Transitional Council (NTC) interim leadership.

These concerns rose after the still unexplained July 28 killing of the military commander of anti-Gaddafi forces, Abdel Fattah Younes, a former top Gaddafi security official, after he was taken into custody by his own side for questioning.

Western concerns about Islamists were exacerbated this month when some of them strongly criticized Libya's interim rulers -- a mainly secular group of technocrats, some of them former Gaddafi officials -- for allegedly behaving in a high handed manner towards Islamists and those of other political persuasions.

The criticisms triggered a bout of recriminations in the anti-Gaddafi camp that worried some Libyans who say the proliferation of guns during the conflict means the country cannot afford to raise the political temperature.

But Belhadj -- not one of those who have voiced strong opinions publicly -- said the outbreak of public ill-feeling was more the result of a desire to air long-suppressed views than any ideological divide.

"What you see now is the eruption of someone who was under oppression," he said.

"Libyans were denied the right to express their feelings ... There was a wall in front of them. When this wall was removed they just started to express themselves. What we care for is what the (ordinary) Libyans are saying what they are thinking of us."

Asked to describe his background he said simply that he was a man who sought an end to Gaddafi's rule.

"NOT A MILITARY MAN"

"We wanted to get rid of this criminal. We stood with whoever was against him ... I'm not a military man, even though I carried some military duties. Gaddafi forced us to resist him, to carry weapons against him."

Belhadj suggested he valued pluralism. "God said to be different is possible, disagreement is possible and it happens. The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, lived with Christians and Jews and had peaceful dealings with them."

But he said he wanted an apology from British officials he said were responsible for helping his transfer to Libya in 2004.

"I asked for apologies from those people who were involved in giving me up and handling me. This is against human rights for sure."

Belhadj, who spent time with the Taliban in Afghanistan, fled to Iran after the US-led invasion in 2001. He later went to south-east Asia where he is believed to have been arrested. He was handed over to Libya in 2004 in circumstances that remain unclear.

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"Britain claims it cares for human rights -- what about their handing me over to whoever does not respect human rights. I have proof that they are involved and that's why I asked for an apology."

Britain has said an inquiry into the alleged ill-treatment of suspected terrorists will examine Belhadj's case.

Turning to Tripoli's security, he said he was "securing the capital."

"When we have a structure for the country, its institutions, especially the security institutions and the ministry of interior for example, then we will have a police structure."

"(At that time) we will call the revolutionaries, whoever wants to join those police branches, he will join, or those who don't will go back to their original jobs and hand over their guns that should go back to the weapons stores."


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