In today’s post in Maltatoday titled What if we were still a NATO airbase?, the honourable gentleman Evarist Bartolo holds forth on the contentious issue of Malta’s “neutrality”. This post is an attempt not to prove the honourable gentleman wrong, but to present the facts that were available at the time of writing.
On the Opinion page (21), of Maltatoday, Mr Bartolo starts as follows:
Last Thursday (13 October), Royal Air Force and Canadian personnel finally vacated the Sicilian airbase in Birgi near Trapani, which they had been using for the Libyan bombing campaign since last March.
The article goes on to argue that Vincenzo Florio Airport on the west coast of Sicily suffered a devestatingly “big drop in tourist arrivals” (to the tune of “€10 million”) because commerical flights were disrupted in the wake of the “Libyan bombing campaign”. This forced airport operators “to limit commercial flights to 40 a day”. Vincenzo Florio shares its two runways with Birgi Military Airport.
While fighting rages in Sirte, Bani Walid and even in the past 48 hours, in the heart of the Capital, I hereby offer the following facts:
1. The United Nations Security Council approved a so-called ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya (UNSCR1973), on the 17 March and authorised the international community to take ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians. It did so with resounding support, there were 10 votes in favour and 5 abstentions.
2. The “big drop” in tourist related revenues does not take into account the fact that some of the displaced flights are subsidised by the EU nor the fact that nearby Punta Raisi (Palermo airport) is a mere 60 Km away. Incoming tourism into Sicily as a whole will not have been affected by the decision.
3. In operational terms, Malta International Airport’s second runway can easily support non-fast jet operations. Had a component of Nato’s 17 E-3A fleet been based here (the E-3A is a Boeing 707, the mainstay of Air Malta’s fleet throughout the 1970s and 80s) commercial operations would not have been disrupted. A Forward Operating Base this far south would have facilitated a more rapid and efficient deployment of these crucial assets, shortening the duration of Operation Unified Protector – ultimately saving lives and reducing risk to Malta’s economy.
4. According to figures released by Nato in 2008, the deployment of the E-3A fleet contributes significantly to the local economy. Based on annual figures for its deployment at Geilenkirchen, the E-3As generated €275.8 million to the economic catchment area (here defined as being within 200 kilometers of the base). In 2008, the project was payrolling 3,050 employees at Geilenkirchen alone to the tune of € 150.7 million, with additional expenditures of € 81.3 million. A further 1,716 indirect jobs were also created, generating an additional €43.8 million.
Taking the Libyan bombing campaign as a starting point for discussion on the future of Libya, is like talking about the future of post war Germany in 1945, but believing that the Communists were really behind the Reichstag fire in 1933, or that the war started because Polish troops attacked Gliwice radio station on 31 August, 1939.
With Ghaddafi’s military now hemmed in at various enclaves within the vicinity of towns such as Sirte, Bani Walid, Buwayrat and Hun, Libyan officials in the Transitional National Council are keen to avoid the kind of sectarian violence that engulfed Iraq following the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Amidst talk of supplying basic amenities such as water and cooking oil; and kick starting an economy almost totally reliant on oil exports, there is also talk of a fostering South African style reconciliation. In the words of Aref Ali Nayed, Stabilization Team Head of the NTC:
You cannot build a country if you don’t have reconciliation and forgiveness [....] Reconciliation has been a consistent message from our President and Prime Minister on (a reference to Chairman of the National Transitional Council, Mr Abdul Jalil and Chairman of the Executive Board Dr. Mahmoud Jibril), down to our religious leaders and local councils
So far the signs are good. There has been no looting of national treasures and the banking system appears to be intact. In contrast to to purge of Baathist party officials in Iraq, almost all Gaddafi-era officials will remain in their posts to ensure continuity.
Destruction and disbandment is the wrong road to take [...] It’s better to take a conservative approach, even if it’s not perfect, and build on it slowly.
This amnesty however, will not apply to those who resist the reintergration process, as was made amply clear by Dr Jibril during his recent visit to Malta. Dr. Jibril is Head of International Affairs at the NTC.
With nearly a month passing since the last UNOCHA situation update for Libya, the conflict in the troubled North African state appears to have reached a stalemate, welcome in the narrow humanitarian sense but less so in the broader political.
According to UN official figures, well over a million people (mostly expats) have fled Libya since the troubles began on 17th February. An uncertain number (ranging from a few to several thousand) have either perished or have been seriously injured.
Thus far, 14 countries have recognised the TNC according to this press release. Worth noting too that of these, only Gambia and Senegal are African states. Notwithstanding early rhetoric, only three Arab League countries, namely Qatar, the UAE and Jordan have recognised the TNC. Libya ironically, remains suspended from the Arab League. Did it indeed ever belong?
It is hard to imagine that an legitimate power sharing agreement can be put in place so long as Ghaddafi retains even the vestiges of power. Admittedly he is a potent symbol for some (possibly even many), but for all the wrong reasons.
In Crisis Situation Report no. 36, the UNOCHA provide an update on the exodus from Libya, in the wake of the February 17 uprising:
The number of people leaving Libya by sea bound in an attempt to reach Europe has risen since the
crisis in Libya began. The majority of these people are third-country nationals (TCNs) from sub-Saharan
Africa desperate to leave the insecurity and uncertainty in Libya. People fleeing are often doing so in
unseaworthy and overloaded vessels. UNHCR has appealed to urgently put in place more reliable and
effective mechanisms for rescue in the Mediterranean. UNHCR has urged states, commercial shipping
companies and others present in the Mediterranean to consider that all boats leaving Libya for Europe
are likely to require assistance.
At least 1,000 people who have fled Libya by boat so far remain unaccounted for.
Early last Friday 6, a boat carrying people fleeing Libya broke up shortly after departing Tripoli. Relatives
of those onboard say the vessel was carrying around 600 people. A senior Somali diplomat in Tripoli
has reported that 16 bodies have been recovered, including two babies. The full death toll is unknown.
Most of those onboard are believed to have been from Sub-Saharan Africa. Hundreds of people are
missing and bodies were seen floating in the sea and washed ashore (some bodies were seen on the
Lampedusa cost). On 25 March, a small boat that had left Tripoli for Italy ran out of fuel and started
drifting. According to survivors who reached Lampedusa, the boat was thrown water and biscuits from a
helicopter. According to reports, 61 of the 72 people on board the boat died of hunger or thirst.
Passengers were expected to operate the boat on their own.
These past days have seen an increase in arrivals across the Mediterranean: five boats arrived on Lampedusa,
carrying close to 2,400 people on the weekend from 6 to 8 May. Most are sub-Saharan Africans, many
of them women and children. All five boats needed rescuing by the Italian coastguard and maritime
police, with one boat running aground close to the Lampedusa shore. The number of people who have
arrived in Italy and Malta from Libya now stands at 12,360, in a total of some 35 boats (11,230 to Italy
and 1,130 to Malta).
A Libyan government spokesperson has announced that Col. Ghaddafi is now living “in the hearts of the people” which can only mean that the erstwhile head of the African Union is heading for the bunkers. This particular moment in the life and times of Col. Ghaddafi marks the point at which “the leader of the 1st September revolution” is really starting to look like Saddam Hussein in the Maghreb.
Having long demonstrated a contempt for international law and the international community, sponsoring, over the course of four decades, numerous attacks on civilians and nation states going about their everyday business, he never, according to what defecting Libyan intelligence officers are telling us, gave up the desire to acquire long range ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
Ghaddafi understands full well that C2 relays directed against civilian populations make that installation a legitimate target under UNSCR 1973. By siting such a relay “in the hearts of the people” that is, very close to where civilians are living, the leadership has once again shown it has scant regard for civilian life, protocols which are enshrined in conventions such as Protocol IV, signed in Geneva in 1949.
This is a good time for the world to reconsider how it interprets Islam, that is, in a world that is slowly moving away from the ideals espoused by the Qur’an. Yes, Col. Ghaddafi may be “leading the country day by day”, but to penury and misery, not peace and prosperity.
It may be time for Security Council to rethink “the situation in Libya” and to recognise the NTC as the authentic voice of the Libyan people.
28 April 2011
The opposition authority in Libya, the National Transitional Council, has formally pledged not to use antipersonnel and antivehicle landmines. The council also promised to destroy all mines in its forces’ possession.
The pledge was made to Human Rights Watch on April 27, 2011, and in an official communiqué signed on April 28 by Abdulhafeeth Gogha, vice chairman of the National Transitional Council.
The decision marks a historic turning point in political direction of the modern state Libya, a country whose boundaries were set only relatively recently, after WWII.
This decision follows an earlier incident when opposition forces were shown in a BBC news report on April 17 removing plastic anti-vehicle mines from their vehicles and then placing them on the side of the main road into Ajdabiya. Two witnesses also told told Human Rights Watch that opposition forces had transferred anti-vehicle mines from Benghazi to Misurata, a move that was not authorised by the TNC, according to the field commander of opposition forces in eastern Libya, Gen. Khalifa Hufter and head of the Military Council, Omar Hariri.
“The decision by Libya’s opposition forces to reject landmines is terrific because mines have killed and maimed so many civilians around the world,” said Steve Goose, Arms director at Human Rights Watch. “We urge the National Transitional Council to implement its decision right away, and we call on the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi to make the same commitment on behalf of civilians in war.”
The communiqué on landmines states that “no forces under the command and control of the NTC will use antipersonnel or anti-vehicle landmines.” The council pledged to destroy all landmines possessed by forces under its command and control, and to “cooperate in the provision of mine clearance, risk education, and victim assistance.”
Any future Libya government should “relinquish landmines and join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty,” the communiqué said.
(Human Rights Watch)
A UK foreign office official has again affirmed the rules of engagement set out in resolution 1973, intervention can take place only insofar as it protects the “civilian population” (without making a distinction of persons) and by “all necessary measures”.
As Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University Professor, has suggested, in the cyber world of the twenty-first century it is the state (or non-state) actor with the best story that wins.
30 April 2011
- Some 634,835 people have fled Libya since the beginning of the conflict (up to 27 April).
- About 18,500 Libyans crossed into Tunisia at Dehiba between 21 and 27 April
- The fighting at Dehiba has stopped the outflow of refugees from Libya’s Western Mountains.
- UNHCR reports that large numbers of recent arrivals are straining resources at Dehiba. The vast majority of people (more than 30,000) are being hosted by the local community and UNHCR is working with the authorities to expand the capacity of existing camps and to support host families.
- African refugees continue to try to make for Europe on their own initiative, and according to a report from the Somali community at the Choucha camp (near the Ras Adjir border crossing), three Somali refugees drowned on Thursday morning after their boat carrying some 280 people heading towards Italy capsized in high seas. These deaths add to the hundreds of people who have drowned or are missing in the desperate attempt to reach the safety of Europe from Libya.
For further information please contact: On the Egyptian border: Helene Caux on mobile: +201 294 66 378 On the Tunisian border: Firas Kayal on mobile +216 508 561 99 In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38