Libyan rebels encircle Sirte as Gaddafi son presses for resistance

Libyan rebel forces encircle Sirte, as Saif al-Islam Gaddafi presses for resistance. South Korea appoints Yu Woo lk as its new unification minister. The Sri Lankan government introduces new anti-terrorism rules after emergency laws expire. And Iran plans to continue enriching 20 percent uranium. All this in today’s briefing…

Libyan rebels encircle Sirte, but the battle is not over yet

As the ‘Friends of Libya’ summit gets underway in Paris, sixty odd nations and world bodies come together to hold talks with the National Transitional Council (NTC) to focus on post-conflict reconstruction efforts. The summit is hosted by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his British counterpart, Prime Minister David Cameron. It will be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with officials from China and Russia, who now recognize the NTC. The primary focus of this summit is likely to be on dialogue over political, economic and security reconstruction in order to envision a post-Gaddafi Libya. Western powers are somewhat anxious to fine tune the process in order to avoid the mistakes made in post-war Iraq, and formulate a road map that includes a new constitution and elections within 18 months.

While the meeting is held in Paris, Libyan rebel fighters have been encircling Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, ready for an assault, unless the loyalists in the region show willingness to negotiate a peaceful transfer of control. Sirte has been surrounded by Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad from the east and from Tripoli and Misrata on the west. Rebel fighters have an estimated strength of 4000 men as compared to around 1000 pro-Gaddafi soldiers. If the peaceful transfer of power does not happen by Saturday, it is likely that Sirte will fall, just as other cities have. Against the background of these developments, members of Gaddafi’s family, his wife, daughter and two sons have fled to Algeria. They have been allowed to stay in the country based on humanitarian grounds, a stance that has caused tensions between the two neighboring states.

openSecurity verdict: These developments on the one hand may point at a positive development for Libya, towards freedom and democracy. But the reality is far more complex, and there are impeding issues that need to be addressed by the NTC. Firstly, it seems that Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, still maintains that loyalists have the ability to resist the rebels. As unconvincing as this statement seems, it still needs to be taken into account as a hurdle towards the final power transfer, especially in the light of the revelation that loyalists have 20,000 youths ‘ready to fight’. Of course this statement is in stark contrast to that of Saadi Gaddafi, who proposed negotiations to end the fighting, underlining that the Gaddafi family is losing its grip on power.

Libya meanwhile faces deeper problems that endanger its fragile security architecture. If Libya is not to fall into the hands of extremist elements the humanitarian situation needs to be improved, particularly the water shortage problem and the sectarian issues need to be dealt with sensitively. Additionally, the NTC’s political leadership has been unable to establish itself as an organized entity and portray an image of a government in waiting. The NTC itself has a weak hold on the disparate groups it commands. There is evidence of pockets of dissent in Libya, which accuse the NTC of a lack of transparency in nominating members for a new administration. Some even believe that the NTC has too many individuals who previously enjoyed close links to Gaddafi’s old guard. The NTC’s concentration on foreign agendas is somewhat positive, but until and unless it devotes attention to internal structures, pressures will only rise. One thing is clear, if the NTC does not fashion itself in an orderly manner, and looks towards domestic realities, the likelihood of Gaddafi forces re-grouping underground to launch insurgencies will increase.

South Korea's new unification minister

The South Korean government has appointed a new unification minister. Yu Woo lk, a former ambassador to China, was put in charge of North Korean affairs by President Lee Myung Bak. Such a move is clearly aimed at easing tensions between the two Korean countries. The move itself seems to have two aspects. On the one hand, it appears that President Lee Myung Bak is looking at restoring approval within his party before the elections next year. On the other hand, relations between the two countries have significantly deteriorated over the last year over border incidents. President Lee’s approval ratings have fallen from 76 percent in 2008 to 33 percent this year, as South Koreans perceive that his government’s policies towards North Korea could escalate to conflict. The appointment of Yu Woo lk has displayed a new tone, he has already declared that he envisions greater ‘flexibility’ in the relationship with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and this is certainly a departure from the hard line confrontationist policies of his predecessor, Hyun In-taek. It is likely that these developments along with the recent visit of a North Korean envoy to New York may reap some fruit towards opening up the six-party talks again. For now it seems, both North and South Koreans are ready to re-engage in constructive dialogue.

Sri Lanka has introduced new anti-terrorism rules

Sri Lanka has implemented its plans for new anti-terrorism rules set to replace recently lifted emergency laws that had been in force since 1971. These rules fall under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and allow security agencies to arrest and detain individuals without warrants. The laws are supposed to be less susceptible to international pressure, and they are an attempt to aid Sri Lanka in maintaining control over what is left of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Additionally, with the expiration of the emergency laws, terror suspects would have to be freed, but the new legislation allows the government to keep those it wishes in prison. These new rules, along with ‘high security zones’ are parts of Sri Lanka's plans to stabilize domestically.

Iran vows to continue 20 percent uranium enrichment

Fereidoon Abbasi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) has said that the country plans to continue enriching 20 percent uranium. Dismissing western concerns, Tehran claimed it needs to maintain 20 percent uranium enrichment for a medical research reactor and that it has plans to export radio-medicine technology to other countries. Iran has also shifted its enrichment operations to the underground Fordo site, which it says is safer than the facility at Natanz. AEIO also claims that its Fordo facility is under full supervision and monitoring of the IAEA. Additionally, Tehran plans to open its Bushehr plant at some point this year and Abbasi has also stated that Iran is in talks with Russia about the construction of additional power plants. Interestingly, he added that the country is also open to western investment in the construction of these plants. These developments together with Iran’s rejection to take part in international discussions to freeze its allegedly civilian uranium enrichment program have led many to believe that Tehran continues to follow its nuclear ambitions.

About the author

Humayun Saleem graduated with an MSc in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. His work focuses on South Asia, East Asia and South East Asia.