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Kadafi aide flees to Britain and quits

Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa may give Western intelligence agencies a better picture of what is going on behind the scenes.

March 31, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
  • Libya's Foreign Minister Musa Kusa speaks during a news conference at a hotel housing the foreign press March 7 in Tripoli.
Libya's Foreign Minister Musa Kusa speaks during a news conference… (Chris Helgren / Reuters )

Reporting from Tripoli, Libya — A high-ranking member of Moammar Kadafi's entourage has dealt a serious blow to the Tripoli regime by abandoning his post and fleeing to Britain, where he stepped off a military plane Wednesday and announced his resignation.

Musa Kusa, Libya's foreign minister and former longtime intelligence chief, had long served as a top member of the Kadafi family's inner circle.

His apparent defection will give Western intelligence agencies a clearer picture of what is going on behind the scenes. He could provide information on whether there are further fractures within the regime's elite, as well as describing the mood and identifying the doubters and the stalwarts.

Photos: Rebels pushed back to Benghazi, Libya

But his access to battlefield intelligence may be limited, said Wayne White, a former State Department intelligence analyst who monitored Libya from 1990 to 2003.

"In the position of foreign minister, unless he's still a close confidant, he's not in the best position to report on the military, intelligence and security services," said White, who is now a scholar at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank.

Ironically, Kusa was once considered one of the regime's most strident defenders.

The Michigan State University graduate was once expelled from Britain for threatening Libyan dissidents. And Kusa and Kadafi had a disagreement over Libya's decision to pay a $2.7-billion settlement to victims of Pan Am Flight 103, which Libya admitted to downing in 1988. White said Kusa considered the settlement a humiliation for Libya.

"He was even more radical than Kadafi," White said.

Kadafi, who apparently holds Kusa in fond regard, never punished him for disagreeing. Kusa later helped craft the deal that dismantled Libya's weapons of mass destruction program and put the oil-rich country back into the good graces of the West.

Since the uprising against Kadafi's rule began last month, Kusa has appeared to be growing visibly uncomfortable in his role as spokesman for the regime, often doing little more than reading aloud statements in Arabic handed to him by his superiors before quickly removing himself from reporters peppering him with questions.

He reportedly arrived in Tunisia from Libya several days ago on what was described as a personal visit. He landed in Britain on Wednesday aboard what the BBC described as a military aircraft.

Kusa's motives for resigning remain murky. Although the rebels appear to be unable to gain the upper hand against Kadafi's military forces in the east even after Western-led airstrikes on his ground forces and the imposition of a United Nations-mandated no-fly zone, Kusa may nonetheless consider the regime doomed and want a role in any future government, White suggested.

Kusa's apparent defection may cause other figures in Tripoli to weigh their options, but it probably will not result in mortal damage to the regime, which is dominated by Kadafi.

As word of Kusa's departure spread late Wednesday, the normally chatty Libyan officials lounging nightly in the lobby of the Tripoli hotel where international journalists stay were nowhere to be found.

"This probably will be personally rather hurtful to Kadafi," White said. "The two go back a long time. In the end, he couldn't keep Musa Kusa at his side."

Photos: Rebels pushed back to Benghazi, Libya

daragahi@latimes.com

Times staff writer Janet Stobart in London contributed to this report.

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