The Libyan people will fight back if Western powers seek to enforce a no-fly zone in the country’s airspace, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.
Gaddafi also brought Turkey’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) into the debate -- apparently as a case of what he sees as a Western double standard against Libya -- asking why the Western powers do not impose a no-fly zone in Turkish airspace to protect the Kurds.
“There are Kurds who want their rights in Turkey. They want to establish an independent state,” Gaddafi said in the interview with the state-run TRT Türk channel. “The Turkish army has been fighting the Kurds for years. Why is Turkish airspace not closed? Neither the US, nor Europe have made any decision to that effect. Why?” asked Gaddafi in the interview.
“If they make such a decision it will be useful for Libya because the Libyan people will see the truth, that what they want is to take control of Libya and to steal their oil,” Gaddafi said. “Then the Libyan people will take up arms against them,” Gaddafi said.
Gaddafi’s remarks came as the Western powers weigh an internationally-backed no-fly zone as a contingency plan in case Gaddafi refuses to step down in response to a popular uprising against his rule that erupted in February. Britain and France are working on a UN Security Council resolution for a no-fly zone that could be put into effect if they think conditions warrant it, and NATO defense ministers will meet on Thursday and Friday to examine options concerning Libya.
US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed a potential no-fly zone for Libya during a telephone conversation on Tuesday, and both countries insisted that any intervention must have broad international support. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said on Tuesday that any decision to impose a no-fly zone is a matter for the United Nations and should not be a US-led initiative. “We want to see the international community support it (a no-fly zone),” Clinton told Sky News. “I think it’s very important that this not be a US-led effort.”
However, a report in the Washington Post on Wednesday indicated the US and some of its NATO allies are weighing the legality of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya without United Nations backing.
Turkey, a NATO member, which has so far opposed any foreign military intervention in Libya because it could undermine the legitimacy of the opposition in the eyes of the Libyan people, said imposing a no-fly zone would be risky. “There are obvious risks with the imposition of a no-fly zone,” a Turkish diplomat told Today’s Zaman on Tuesday. “Let’s say a NATO aircraft hit a Libyan aircraft or the opposite happened and a NATO soldier was taken hostage by the Libyan side. What would be the response to this kind of situation?” asked the diplomat, reflecting Ankara’s reservations about the no-fly zone idea. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the first to dismiss any NATO role in Libya, saying during a visit to Germany late last month that any NATO action there would be “nonsense.”
It is not clear, however, if Ankara would block any NATO decision to impose a no-fly zone over Libya if other members of the alliance decide to go ahead with it. The diplomat told Today’s Zaman any action taken by NATO should be sanctioned by the UN and that Ankara would abide by all decisions of the UN Security Council.
Gaddafi’s remarks about the PKK in Turkey are reminiscent of a scandalous visit by former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan in 1996 to Libya, when Gaddafi publicly criticized Turkey’s Western ties and said the Kurds in southern Turkey should be allowed to form an independent state.
In the interview, the Libyan leader sent warm messages to Ankara as well, saying it understands the Turkish statements expressing concern about the situation in his country. “Of course, the reports they have heard [about developments in Libya] had an influence on Turkish leaders,” he said. He also criticized Ankara’s decision to evacuate Turkish workers in Libya and added that he would soon offer measures to pave the way for the return of the evacuated workers.
“The Turks are our brothers. We have a common history. We lived together for hundreds of years,” he said in remarks in Arabic. “We are all Ottomans, this is our history.”
The interview with Gaddafi was conducted late at night when Gaddafi made a surprise appearance at a hotel, where foreign journalists are staying in Tripoli, and gave a few interviews.
Gaddafi repeated earlier claims the revolt was inspired by foreign al-Qaeda militants who have paid young men and freed prisoners to fight with them. He said Western governments and media had been fooled by al-Qaeda propaganda into believing government forces had unleashed violence on Libyan people.
“I’d have to be mad to shoot at peaceful demonstrators. I’d never have done that. I’d never have allowed anyone to be shot,” he said in an interview with France’s LCI television.
Human rights activists estimate more than 1,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in mid-February. Gaddafi also complained that the UN Security Council was bypassing its own processes to act hastily against Libya.
Returning to accusations that al-Qaeda was to blame for the violence, Gaddafi said the international community should realize the consequences.
“The world will change its attitude towards Libya because Libyan stability means the security of the Mediterranean Sea. It will be a huge disaster if al-Qaeda takes over Libya,” the Libyan leader told TRT Türk. “Al-Qaeda would flood Europe with immigrants. We are the ones who prevent al-Qaeda from taking control. They would drag the whole region into chaos. Al-Qaeda would take over North Africa.”