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Libyan Envoy: Building Army is Key to Security

Libyan security forces stand guard at a checkpoint on the highway leading to downtown Benghazi, Libya, Feb. 15, 2013. Libyans are preparing to mark the second anniversary of the uprising that ousted Moammar Gadhafi.
Libya is marking two years since the birth of the uprising that ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi, an anniversary marred by persistent insecurity across the country. The Libyan ambassador to the United States acknowledged the challenges his country faces in an exclusive interview with VOA, but said he is still optimistic about the future.

Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali said the greatest challenge is building an official Libyan army, which did not exist during the 42 years Gadhafi ruled the country. The former leader used brigades to protect his family and his people, and what has taken their place is a patchwork of armed men carving out their own version of security.

“The problem is how we’re going to absorb them in the government under different umbrellas,” Aujali said. “Not all of them want to be in the army, or they want to be in the police forces, or they want to be in security service. Some of them, they are civilians who just found themselves fighting the brutal regime during the revolution.”
Libyan Ambassador to the U.S. Ali Suleiman Aujali at his Washington office, Feb 2013.
Libyan Ambassador to the U.S. Ali Suleiman Aujali at his Washington office, Feb 2013.

The ambassador said the new Libyan government wants to work with the fighting groups, to train and educate them.

“We have these freedom fighters, or what you call them, the young revolutionaries. They are the one who’s taking care of the security of Libya and the border, and they are not a problem to us because we need them at this time,” he said.

On Friday, Libyan leaders urged people to stay calm and even cancelled some demonstrations planned to mark the anniversary of the uprising, which began on February 17, 2011.

In the past two years since Gadhafi was killed by protesters, a new government has come to power and re-established Libya’s links with the rest of the world.

But the thrill of life without Gadhafi has turned to worry that the country has traded one set of problems for another. The oil-rich country is still economically destitute and lacks a constitution. Militia fighters are roaming the streets of the south, while extremists make inroads in the east, where an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi killed four people last year, including the U.S. ambassador.

The Libyan ambassador in Washington acknowledged the problems.

“We have to build our security. Without our security, we cannot build our country. This is priority number one,” he said.

Aujali added that he thought the government was doing a good job integrating some former fighters into different sectors, offering them educational scholarships and medical treatment. He noted other gains, too.

“We elected our government, the transitional government. I think this is an achievement. The oil production now it has reached the level before the revolution,” he said.

What the government hasn’t done is pass a new constitution, a process that has proven extremely difficult in post-revolutionary Egypt.

But the Libyan ambassador dismissed any comparisons to Egypt, saying they are different societies.

“I am very optimistic about the drafting of the new constitution, but I think maybe we should take the right time to draft it. We should not be in a hurry,” he said.

There are no signs that anyone is hurrying.

Two years since Libya’s transitional leaders promised a new constitution, the General National Congress approved a committee on Wednesday that will write the law that will govern the election that will choose the committee that will draft the new constitution.

Once all those steps happen, Aujali said the process should “not take a very long time” because most of the articles in the old constitution "can still serve us well after more than 40 years."

He said Libyans have been quick to adapt to the new reality of life after Gadhafi.

“It doesn’t take us time to find the right flag. It doesn’t take time at all to have the [new] national anthem. We just need to make some necessary changes in some paragraphs in the anthem and then we sing all together the same anthem we sang since 1951,” he said.

The ambassador appealed for patience, and for help from the international community.
President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address Feb. 12, 2013.
President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address Feb. 12, 2013.

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged in his State of the Union address last Tuesday that the United States would help Libya provide for its own security. He offered few details about what that meant.

The Libyan ambassador to the U.S. also provided few details about Tripoli’s relationship with Washington.

“I think the Americans are committed to help Libya by training, by technology, which is really important in this small population,” he said. “I think they are committed and they want to see Libya do well.”

Representatives from Libya, the U.S. and other Western and Arab nations gathered in Paris on Tuesday to discuss the future of Libya. At the Support Libya conference, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said they had agreed to the “the rapid deployment of European experts” to train and rebuild the army, navy and air force.”

With both freedom and security, Libya has a future, said Aujali.

"If you are free, then you can create and you can create a hope and you can dream, and your dreams come true.”