Libyan minister could trigger other defections: analysts

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The defecting Libyan Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa could hold the key to persuading other key regime figures to turn their back on Moamer Kadhafi, analysts said Sunday.

But they warned that the Libyan leader's close-knit inner circle of family and clan members is unlikely to be brought down by the defection of a handful of ministers.

Kussa apparently surprised Libya and the West when he touched down at Farnborough Airport southwest of London on Wednesday and announced he was resigning his role.

The man seen as a close confidante of Kadhafi is now reportedly being debriefed by British intelligence agents at a safe house.

He has not been seen in public and there has been no indication of how long he intends to stay or why he chose to come to Britain.

The interviews with Kussa, a former head of Libyan intelligence who is described as Kadhafi's "black box" by opposition groups, are being conducted in the utmost secrecy, although his state of mind is said to be fragile.

But government sources have indicated to the media that he is helping Britain to persuade other Libyans to defect, possibly because any hopes he may have of a safe exile himself depend on the Kadhafi regime collapsing.

There are reports that up to 10 senior figures are in talks with the British government over defecting, although the significance of a visit to Britain of an envoy to one of Kadhafi's sons has been played down.

Dr Alia Brahimi, Global Security Research Fellow at the London School of Economics, said Kussa's defection will show others "that people very close to Kadhafi have made the judgement that this is a sinking ship and it's time to defect now."

Brahimi said high-profile figures such as Kussa who were involved in bringing Libya back into the international fold in the last decade will conclude that he has deserted the Libyan leader because he sees a grim future even if the regime defeats the rebel insurgency.

"We can assume there would be number of those people around him that would perhaps make a similar judgement: that even if Kadhafi wins, Libya would go back to the years of isolationism when life was very, very hard," she told AFP.

British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed the minister's arrival was proof that a "rotten regime" was "crumbling".

However, Kussa's defection has coincided with a series of reverses for the rebels, who have been forced into retreat as the better-organised pro-Kadhafi forces have fought back despite coming under continued Western air strikes.

Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow at London-based military think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that while the defection is significant, it does not necessarily follow that the regime is falling apart.

"This sends a long-term signal and it will make other Arab countries who may have been backing Kadhafi think twice," he told AFP.

"But Libya is highly clan-based and family-based. At the core of it is a connection between Kadhafi and his clan, like a spinal cord."

The regime is now focused on the war, Joshi said, "and so the defection of an oil minister would not be the end of the world".

"I don't think it is a linear progression towards the toppling of the regime if a few ministers step down," he said.

Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, questioned why more had not been made of Kussa as a key propaganda tool to denounce Kadhafi and encourage defections and desertion among his ministers and troops.

"The most important thing Mussa Kussa could do is issue an appropriate statement about why he defected and how ghastly the regime is. It will undermine the morale of Kadhafi's forces," Miles told the Sunday Telegraph.

He said Kussa "should be denouncing Kadhafi and branding him a murderer".

"We should have had a statement by now. (He) should be used to undermine military support for Kadhafi. He should be highlighting Kadhafi's use of African mercenaries to kill Libyan civilians," Miles added.

© 2011 AFP

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