After Months, Libyan Rebels March Into Tripoli

Libyan rebels have taken control of most of the capital Tripoli. Oliver Miles, who served as the British ambassador to Libya in the 1980s, talks to David Greene about the situation in Libya.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And I'm David Greene.

This morning we are closely following the dramatic events unfolding in Libya. After months of fighting, rebel forces entered the capital of Tripoli this weekend and Moammar Gadhafi's tower appears to be slipping. Heavy fighting is being reported near his compound there. Oliver Miles is a longtime expert on Libya who served as Britain's ambassador to the country during the 1980s. And we reached him in London this morning.

Welcome to the program, Ambassador.

Ambassador OLIVER MILES (Retired British Ambassador): Thank you.

GREENE: I know there's a lot uncertain still in Libya, but one thing we do know is that rebels seem to have moved into the capital of Tripoli pretty easily this weekend. What does that tell you about the state of the Gadhafi regime?

Amb. MILES: I think it's finished. When I was talking to people from the rebel leadership a few days ago, they were saying quite openly that there were two possible outcomes. One was going to be a reliable smooth handover if the regime collapsed. And the other was going to be a very, very bloody affair, a battle of Tripoli, if you like, which would be awful. I mean, a city of two million people street fighting, it doesn't bear thinking about.

Thank God, it seems to be the smooth option, although it's not quite over yet. There are pockets of resistance. Let's hope it's no more than that. And, of course, Gadhafi himself still is unaccountably absent.

GREENE: And everyone has always talked about Moammar Gadhafi as incredibly unpredictable. What sorts of things might still play out in the coming hours, days? I mean, do you expect him to try to go into exile? Do you expect him to sort of come out with a surprise?

Amb. MILES: Well, it's - you're right. He is extremely unpredictable and he's deliberately unpredictable. He likes the surprise. It's part of his tactics. Let's hope he hasn't got a nasty surprise. Some people have been speculating that this easy run into Tripoli for the rebels is a prelude to some serious fighting. I don't personally think that's much of a danger, simply because I think he's lost control.

But returning to Gadhafi, himself, one of the surprising things he could do, I suppose, is commit suicide, because Arab leaders don't normally commit suicide. Another would be to turn up in some unexpected place. I think, myself, that he's almost certainly still in Libya. It's possible that he's not in Tripoli. It could be that he's, for example, in Sabha right down in the far south, which has been largely out of the reach of NATO operations and therefore below the media radar screen as well.

GREENE: There've been so many stories of the disarray, the lack of organization in the rebel camp. If Gadhafi does leave power, if the rebels are able to establish some sort of control, what needs to happen then to make the transition as smooth as possible?

Amb. MILES: I'm worried about those stories that you refer to. I think that the media have given the Transitional National Council, which is the name the rebel leadership has taken, a very hard time. And they've been ready to listen to all kinds of unsupported stories, in my view, about the confusion, factionalism, involvement of Islamist al-Qaida types and so on, for which, in my view, there is very little or indeed no evidence.

I think the National Transitional Council got a very difficult job. They recognize that. I think they've made as good preparation in the circumstances as they could have done. For example, we were told a few days ago that in preparation for possible transfer of power in Tripoli itself they'd set up a committee which was going to work immediately on the questions of security, questions of electricity supply, questions of water supply. Those are the highest priorities.

And I think, well, we will now see whether their actions match their words. But their words were pretty good.

GREENE: Well, what markers do you look for? I mean, what has to happen in the first few weeks to keep you, you know, having that level of confidence in the rebels?

Amb. MILES: We'd like to see people able to talk, able to more around, able to support the new leadership or to criticize it if they feel so inclined. Those are the tests.

There's going to be one big test for the international community, which is this. One of the results of the Security Council action which authorized the intervention in Libya was to freeze Libya's financial assets, which, of course, are very large. They are literally billions of dollars of assets all over the place in Libya, outside Libya, and many of them have been frozen by international action.

They must be unfrozen quickly. It is absolutely essential that this doesn't get handed to a bunch of lawyers in New York - I beg your pardon, I don't mean American New York, I mean, United Nations New York - who will take weeks and months to sort out the mess. Otherwise, the expectations, which would've been aroused by this happy transfer of power will be terribly, terribly disappointed. The blame will rest on us.

GREENE: Oliver Miles is the former British ambassador to Libya.

Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Amb. MILES: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

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