New cracks appear in Gaddafi regime
Published 31/03/2011 | 13:32
The embattled Libyan regime is coming under increasing pressure after the defection of the foreign minister as the West presses Muammar Gaddafi to relinquish power.
In another blow to Gaddafi's authority, US officials revealed that the CIA has sent small teams of operatives into rebel-held eastern Libya while the White House debates whether to arm the opposition.
The UK Government said that foreign minister Moussa Koussa had arrived in Britain on a flight from Tunisia and was resigning from his post, though the Libyan government denied it. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the resignation showed the regime is "fragmented, under pressure and crumbling".
Koussa is not the first high-ranking member of the regime to quit - the justice and interior ministers resigned early in the conflict and joined the rebellion based in the east. Koussa, however, is a close confidant of Gaddafi, privy to all the inner workings of the regime. His departure could open the door for some hard intelligence, though Britain refused to offer him immunity from prosecution.
Koussa was Libya's chief of intelligence for more than a decade. The opposition holds him responsible for the assassinations of dissidents in Western capitals and for orchestrating the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and the bombing of another jet over Niger a year later.
In later years, however, he played an important role in persuading Western nations to lift sanctions on Libya and remove its name from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. He led settlements of Lockerbie, offered all information about Libya's nuclear programme and gave London and Washington information about Islamic militants after the September 11 attacks.
Despite the setbacks and ongoing Nato air strikes on government forces, Gaddafi loyalists have been logging successes on the battlefield, retaking much of the territory the rebels had captured since air strikes began March 19.
The rebels came under heavy shelling by Gaddafi's forces in the strategic oil town of Brega on the coastal road that leads to Tripoli. Black smoke billowed in the air over Brega as mortars exploded.
The poorly equipped rebels' setbacks are hardening the US view that they are probably incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention, a senior US intelligence official said.
The US has made clear that it is considering providing arms to the rebels, but White House press secretary Jay Carney said no decision had been made: "We're not ruling it out or ruling it in." President Barack Obama said in a national address on Monday night that US troops would not be used on the ground in Libya.