Britain says no immunity offered to Libyan minister

31st March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Libya's foreign minister has not been offered immunity after his surprise arrival in Britain, London said Thursday, while urging other members of Moamer Kadhafi's "crumbling" regime to quit.

Mussa Kussa, a former head of Libyan intelligence and one-time ambassador to Britain, arrived "under his own free will" at Farnborough airport southwest of London on Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

Hague insisted that Kussa, who has been blamed for atrocities including the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, had not been offered immunity from prosecution in British or international courts.

"Mussa Kussa is not being offered any immunity from British or international justice," Hague told reporters.

He said the minister was being interviewed "voluntarily" by British officials.

"He said that he is resigning his post. We are discussing this with him.

"His resignation shows that Kadhafi's regime, which has already seen significant defections to the opposition, is fragmented, under pressure and crumbling from within," Hague added.

"Kadhafi must be asking himself who will be the next to abandon him."

The foreign secretary urged other Kadhafi loyalists to turn their back on Kadhafi.

"The Kadhafi regime has lost all legitimacy and today I renew our calls for those around him to abandon and to unite in support of a better future for their country," Hague said.

A rebellion against Kadhafi's four decades of rule has been aided by Western air strikes on regime forces.

Britain has repeatedly said that Kadhafi and his closest associates should face the International Criminal Court, a call echoed by the rebels fighting the Libyan leader's 42-year-old regime.

Kussa, 59, flew to Britain from Tunisia, where he had spent two days on what Tripoli had officially described as a private visit.

When he was reported to be on his way to London, the Libyan authorities said he was on a "diplomatic mission".

The United States, which with Britain and France has led military action in Libya, hailed Kussa's departure as a major blow to Kadhafi's regime.

"This is a very significant defection and an indication that people around Kadhafi think the writing's on the wall," a senior US administration official said.

Several ministers and senior military officers have already abandoned Kadhafi and one of them, former immigration minister Ali Errishi, told France 24 television that Kussa's move showed "the regime's days are numbered".

As head of Libyan intelligence for 15 years before his appointment as foreign minister in March 2009, Kussa is credited with convincing Kadhafi to dismantle his nuclear weapons programme and renew ties with the West.

"He has occupied a key position at the heart of the intelligence and security apparatus of the Kadhafi regime," former British foreign secretary Jack Straw told BBC radio.

"And I am in absolutely no doubt that he played a fundamentally important role in getting Kadhafi to agree to give up his nuclear weapons programme and his chemical weapons programme."

However, Kussa has also been named as the architect of the 1988 Pan Am bombing over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which killed 270 people.

Libyan agent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi was jailed for the attack but was granted compassionate release from a Scottish jail in August 2009.

Kussa was expelled from Britain in 1980, just months after being appointed ambassador to London, after telling a journalist he approved of killing "enemies" of the Libyan regime.

Hague on Wednesday announced the expulsion of five diplomats at the Libyan embassy in London, including the military attache, because of the threat they pose to opposition dissidents.

© 2011 AFP

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