Embassy attacks 'threaten Libya with new isolation'
04 October 2013, 17:59
Tripoli - An assault on the Russian embassy in Tripoli that
sparked the evacuation of its staff highlights a continued inability to protect
diplomats that threatens Libya with renewed isolation, analysts say.
Wednesday evening's attack on the Russian compound triggered
an exchange of fire in which two of the assailants were killed.
It came more than a year after ambassador Chris Stevens and
three other Americans were killed in an assault on the US consulate in Libya's
second city Benghazi.
Following the 11 September 2012 attack, which was blamed on
al-Qaeda sympathisers, the Libyan authorities promised urgent action to improve
security but they have proved unable to guarantee protection for foreign diplomatic
missions even in the capital.
Benghazi was the cradle of the 2011 revolt that overthrew
veteran dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but ever since his ouster the eastern city
has been prey to a array of former rebel militias that the central government
has been unable to bring to heel.
"The number of countries that have retained diplomatic
missions in the city is in single figures," the consul in Benghazi of one
African government told AFP.
"Despite the prevailing lack of security, we receive no
protection" from the Libyan authorities, he said.
"We have a few security agents but they are powerless
in the event of an attack. So we try to keep the lowest profile possible and
regularly exchange risk assessments with our fellow diplomats on the
In Tripoli, dozens of protesters attempted to storm the
Russian embassy compound on Wednesday evening, setting a vehicle alight and
causing some damage to the mission's entrance gate.
The assault followed a car bomb attack on the French embassy
in April which wounded two guards.
Moscow said it had decided to pull out all its embassy staff
and their families after the Libyan authorities were unable to provide
guarantees for their security.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdelaziz denied that Libya had
urged Russia to pull out its diplomats.
He said he had merely urged embassy staff to retreat to the
relative safety of one of the capital's two heavily guarded luxury hotels for
fear of a second attack on the compound.
"We understand the concerns expressed by foreign
diplomatic missions. We are doing our best to improve security for them,"
Abdelaziz told AFP.
"But as everybody knows, we are going through a
In the absence of stronger guarantees from the Libyan
authorities, a growing number of foreign governments have taken matters into
their own hands by pulling out all but essential embassy staff and relocating
those who remain to premises that are easier to secure.
Some have moved to one or other of the two heavily guarded
hotels, while others have gone to fortified expatriate compounds.
After the security recriminations that followed the Benghazi
attack, Washington has turned its embassy into a fortress.
But the upshot has been that foreign diplomats leave their
compounds less and less, with an inevitable impact on their ability to carry
out their functions.
"We have orders not to go out any more except in
daylight and only when necessary," one Western diplomat told AFP.
"For several weeks, we have hardly left the compound.
We are away from our families and we work and sleep in the same place. It's
Analysts warned that the growing siege mentality among
foreign diplomats threatens to leave Libya isolated and reduce its ability to
access the foreign assistance it desperately needs.
"If this climate of insecurity persists, the country
will return to the isolation it suffered in the days of Gaddafi," said
international relations analyst Imad Ajaj.
"We need the international community to help us rebuild
the country after 42 years of dictatorship under Gaddafi and a conflict which
destroyed our infrastructure."