Former Libyan Ambassador Optimistic About An End To Gadhafi's Rule
MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, a new film on PBS recalls the perilous journey of the Freedom Riders. Those activists, white and black, who endured vicious violence and jail in a campaign to end segregation in public transportation in the Deep South. Today, 40 students are retracing the route those riders took. We'll speak with two of those students in a few moments.
But first, we go back to the story we've been following these many weeks of the effort in Libya to overthrow the autocratic leader Moammar Gadhafi, who has ruled the country for more than 30 years and has been waging a violent campaign to suppress opponents of his regime. Now he's become a target of the International Criminal Court. Today, the court's prosecutor declare that he has sought arrest warrants for Gadhafi and one of his sons for crimes against humanity.
And the head of Britain's military has called for more NATO air strikes around the region. Here in the U.S., self-declared leaders of a transitional Libyan government allied with the rebels have been holding meetings around Washington with lawmakers and members of the Obama administration.
We wanted to learn more about the state of the opposition and what they want from the U.S. government so we've called, once again, Ali Aujali. We spoke with him earlier this year after he had resigned as the Libyan ambassador to the U.S. in protest of the Gadhafi regime's violent attacks on Libyan civilians and he's back with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Welcome back, ambassador, thank you for joining us once again.
ALI AUJALI: Hi, Michel, thank you for inviting me.
MARTIN: We know that you've been in communication with opposition forces. So we did want to ask, you know, what is their state of mind? What are they telling you about their positions?
AUJALI: Well, I think the morale is very strong. The Libyan opposition, they are doing very well on the ground. They're doing very well on political side. Their visit here to the United States was very successful. Even we don't achieve all what they come for - what they came for. But I think it is very good visit that we know each other. We introduce them, and I think they left with a very good inspiration among all the people they met, officials or the other Americans.
MARTIN: Mahmoud Gebril, the prime minister of Libya's Transitional Interim National Council announced a plan for a post-Gadhafi Libyan government. He was in Washington last week at the Brookings Institution. As briefly as you can, can you tell us a little bit about what that plan looks like?
AUJALI: Well, I think Libya, the first thing that they have to get rid from the Gadhafi regime. And the second thing, recognition of the Libyan council of the Transitional National Council, it is all over the city, all over the cities of Libya. And now the third thing, which is important, as Mr. Gebril mentioned, that we want the integration among the Libyan people. We want reconciliation among the Libyan people. Then we'll not exclude anybody that his hand is not dirty with crimes.
This is a very important issue. We don't - we have to avoid the situation happening in Iraq. Then we want to have our people - we are small population - less than seven million people. And that's when we have people from different department in Libya joining the revolution. This is the most critical issue. And after that, I think they are working on the draft of the constitution.
The Libyan people, they are for the first time they feel they are Libyan, they feel they are nationalists. They're working for their government. They're working for their future. And they're very comfortable now that the days of Gadhafi, I believe they are very comfortable. We are very happy to see that the opposition, they are marching toward Tripoli from Misrata. They are just about (unintelligible). And from the eastern part also, they are marching toward the west.
The Libyan people - the opposition and the Libyan people morale is very high. I am very confident that we will not face the same challenges other countries have been through.
MARTIN: Now, the Transitional Council is hoping to tap into Gadhafi's frozen assets, which amount to about $30 billion that is known to this point. What would this group want to use that money to do?
AUJALI: Well, I think, of course, for example, just let me give you a little example. Here we have 1,700 Libyan (unintelligible). In Canada, we have 500. With their families, there are about 8,000. For next month, they have no allowance. They have no medical insurance. They have no tickets to travel anywhere. And this is one of the issues we are facing. We need humanitarian.
We have more than 40,000 Libyan people now on Tunisian borders. Tunisia is giving them shelter, but they can feed them for some time, but not for the long time. Then we need this money for humanitarian. We need this money for treat the Libyan injuries who've been suffering now all over the Libyan cities, unfortunately, which has been shelled by Gadhafi regime.
Then the first priority is the humanitarian issue for us. And the second thing that we have to pay the public who've been working for the government. They have to feed their children. Yesterday, the Libyan community here, they are very involved to collect humanitarian assistance, food and all kind of food. And myself and my family, we were involved in that. Then we send one container. And the priority is that we have to face the challenges on the ground. We are on the real war against Gadhafi's regime. We have to protect ourselves. This is what the money is really required for.
MARTIN: We're speaking with a former Libyan ambassador, Ali Aujali, he was Libya's ambassador to the United States until he resigned in protest over Moammar Gadhafi's treatment of Libyan civilians and we're talking about the current state of the opposition movement. As we understand it, Libya's Transitional National Council has already gained recognition from France, Italy, Qatar and Kuwait, but the United States...
AUJALI: And Gambia.
MARTIN: And Gambia. But not the United States to our understanding. Now, I understand that members of the council met with some congressional members and with President Obama's national security adviser last week. I assume that this was part of the conversation. Do you feel that that recognition is forthcoming? And why do you think it hasn't been granted to this point?
AUJALI: Well, they do not give us the full recognition, what we really require. They give us, I can say, 50 percent of the full recognition. I think the next time it will be recognition.
MARTIN: Why do you think they haven't?
AUJALI: Well, I think maybe they're stuck by some legal issue. And I think that the Mr. Obama administration, they will be able to find an exit for this because this is - Britain, they manage it, France and some other countries you mentioned. It will not be a problem for the United States, I am sure. United States permitted to help the Libyan people, they recognize that the council is a legitimate representative, legitimate to talk on behalf of the Libyan people, and that's the most important issue.
Then what is left is a small thing. And they hope the administration will take care of it because this is very important. And as you know, U.S. is a leader and if you did that, many countries will come follow.
MARTIN: What do you say to those who believe that the fight is not yet won? I mean, it does appear that Gadhafi's willing to do just about anything to hold on to power. And that there were those who argue that it would be premature for the major governments like the United States to weigh in when the governance of this country is still in dispute. That this is, in effect, a civil war now.
AUJALI: Well, it's not the civil war because civil war, to me, that people fighting each other. Now the people are defending themselves against their government. Then it is not a civil war. Gadhafi has no control of Libya more than 20 percent. Gadhafi's fighters are (unintelligible) they are leaving him. Gadhafi's family, they are split among themselves. Then we need to keep pressure - political pressure, military pressure.
Now we have another pressure, the ICC, the International Criminal Court, which is the decision we will hear today. Then Gadhafi has no more room to maneuver. Gadhafi has no chance to speak and to deal with international community anymore. He (unintelligible), as many leaders, they said. And he has to leave the Libyan people alone. Now what you are seeing on the TV, on the official channel, this is just propaganda, which nobody believe it. Not in Libya, but also outside Libya. I am very confident that the Libyan people now, they are more determined than ever that to get rid of this regime, which has oppressed for the last 42 years.
MARTIN: Can I ask you about your circumstances? When we last spoke with you, you were still working out of the embassy and, frankly, it was a divided place. There are people who are still loyal to the regime and there are people like yourself who have said that the conduct was just - was no longer acceptable and you could no longer countenance it. So what's it like there now? Are you both still coexisting there?
AUJALI: No, no, no. No more. No more. The people who are against the revolution and who are - choose to go back to Libya, all of them, they left. I only have myself and other five Libyan diplomat, which all of us we are with the revolution, as you know. It is quieter. It is nicer now without these people.
MARTIN: How, if you don't my asking, how are basic things being done like the electricity being paid for and things of that sort? Are you still able to maintain the embassy?
AUJALI: Well, Michel, it is very difficult, of course, for the last few months. It is very difficult. We have to depend on our own resources, unfortunately, and no more on the embassy. All the embassy cars, they have been taken away from me. Even my - the people who's supposed to help in the house, they are no more there. We have a very difficult time, but I have this difficult time - it will go soon.
And it is not more difficult than what our Libyan people are facing. It is a small sacrifice for me and for my family when we compare with the people - the young people who are defending their dignity against this political regime.
MARTIN: And, finally, before I let you go, if I could draw upon your knowledge of Gadhafi having served in the government for many years in diplomatic posts around the world, I do want to ask, are you surprised that he's continued to fight as viciously as he has to hold onto power?
AUJALI: No, I'm not surprised, Michel. I'm not surprised. Even if I don't know Gadhafi very well, but I know who is Gadhafi. Gadhafi is a very stubborn person. He will not give up. He thinks this is belong to him. Libya is belong to him and his family. And he cannot believe that the people now is rising against him. This is his problem. He's lost touch with reality. The people now in Libya, now in Tripoli is moving. The biggest city, our capital is moving now against Gadhafi. All the surrounding cities. Now Gadhafi's under - between pressure from the east and from the west.
He realized maybe lately that there is some problem. He doesn't want to realize that the people are rising against him. And I think he has no chance, he or his family. We've been told now from some report maybe he's not even in Libya. Some report they said he's injured. We don't know. But he disappeared for the last few days. We don't hear him or we see him. I think this is his last - this is the last time for Gadhafi to rule Libya. I think his days are countable and it's coming very soon, I hope.
MARTIN: You're very optimistic.
AUJALI: I am very optimistic, of course.
MARTIN: Ali Aujali is the former ambassador - Libya's ambassador to the United States. He's representing the transitional government now. And he was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us once again.
AUJALI: Thank you, Michel. Thank you.
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