Libyan’s call on Gillard to hear their demands

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By Nima Green

Photo: Nima Green

The ‘Libyan Group’ are calling on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to condemn the use of foreign mercenaries in Libya, and to officially recognise the Transitional National Council.

The ‘Group’ is a coalition of Libyan expats living in Melbourne, who have all been personally affected by the violence in their home country, and who are lobbying for the Australian Government to intercede.

At a rally in Melbourne Central on Fri 29th April,  spokesperson Baha Opman said:

“We are worried that with so many revolutions happening at once, the public are turning to apathy.  We are here to show people that we are all individuals.  Look at the children here speaking.  Some of them have lost relatives.  They are not just numbers, they are loved ones.”

Throughout the day, the Libyan Group were encouraging the public to sign a petition, which they will send to Canberra, and which has several key demands.

Firstly, that Australia, and the alliance of the US, Britain and France, does more to stop foreign mercenaries from entering Libya.

And secondly, to officially give recognition to the Transitional National Council (TNC), as the only representative and legitimate government of Libya.

France and Italy have already officially endorsed the council, but other governments are being more cautious, in an effort to distance themselves from the politics and actions of the untried opposition.  Notably, no country has acted upon the request from the TNC, led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, to supply the rebels with arms.

Yet this may change.  In their petition, the Libyan Group calls on the international community to release frozen funds to the TNC “to enable it to equip its national army and to effectively defend and police areas under control.”

Indeed, the US Ambassador to Tripoli Gene Cretz, has noted that with the death toll rising from between 10,000 and 30,000, the international community may need to provide further help to the rebels, calling them a “serious group worthy of support”.

Yet other commentators, like Dr Rodger Shanahan, an Australian diplomat, former army officer and expert in Arab and Islamic relations, points to the escalation crisis as an illustration of “the inability of Arab states to effectively deal with the dilemma that the UN endorsed concept of responsibility to protect presents.” He suggests that the Arab League should shoulder more responsibility towards the stability of its own region.

This sentiment has been echoed by Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Julie Bishop. She has been unwilling to speculate on how long Australia would be willing to support further financial donations, or whether Australia should take a bigger role in helping to ease the crisis, for instance like Britain and France, through chartering planes to expedite the refugee back log.  However, in a statement released this week, she stressed that “it would be concerning if there was a reluctance to donate from nations closer to Libya” due to foreign aid.

Nevertheless, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd, has already pledged a total of $15 million of AUS AID money, making Australia the 3rd highest financial donor to the refugee situation.

However, when contacted, the UNHCR Headquarters in Canberra indicated that more money than has already been pledged “will most likely be needed.”

Baha Opman does recognise that much is being done.  The EU has committed $42 million and Britain is promising to send 2000 chartered flights a day. Yet there has also been criticism of the actions of some of the western alliance.  Particularly towards France, and its decision to shut’s its borders to Italy, to try and stop the influx of African migrants from entering.

Chris Peterson of the Socialist Alliance echoed the Libyan Group’s concerns that the allies are not doing enough.

“What drives people, is they want Gaddafi to go, and do not want him to be allowed to stay through a deal with negotiators.  They want the West to give more recognition towards the TNC as a successor of Gaddafi, and to support their chance of a future without tyranny.”

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