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Who’s In Charge At Libya’s UN Mission?

Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham: loyal to Qaddafi
Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham: loyal to Qaddafi
Two Libyan diplomats are at odds at the United Nations headquarters even though they both claim they represent Libya.

Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, the Qaddafi appointed UN ambassador, has not been seen for the last three days but has remained loyal to the embattled ruler in Tripoli.

On the other hand, Shalgham’s deputy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, denounced the actions of the Libyan government against the protesters, called Qaddafi a “tyrant” and urged the UN Security Council to impose a "no-fly" zone over Libya. Since then, Dabbashi has become the new public face of Libya at the UN.

Asked about the UN rules with regard to such unusual circumstances -- two representatives of the same country taking opposing positions -- the UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said that according to the UN protocol, the representatives are official speakers for their countries unless their accreditation is revoked or they are recalled by their governments. Neither of these things has happened in the case of the two competing Libyan diplomats.

Shalgham, who emotionally addressed the UN Security Council during its emergency session on the Libya crisis on February 22, is reportedly hiding in his home in New Jersey. During his last public appearance he said he was standing by his “old friend” Qaddafi and was not going to switch alliances on a whim. He rejected calls for the Qaddafi regime to be investigated on war-crimes accusations.

After the council’s session and its strong condemnation of the violent crackdown, Dabbashi said that it was not enough.

Diplomats who have seen Shalgham in the days since the revolt began, say that the events back home have taken a heavy toll on the former foreign minister. Shalgham told reporters on February 22 that he’s been in contact with senior members of the government and was trying to persuade them to stop the assault against civilians.

There are only sketchy details concerning a supposed transition of power within Libya’s UN mission, but as of February 22 all 18 staffers of the mission, except for Shalgham, were claiming allegiance to the people of Libya, not to the government.

On February 23, the green flag of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya -- the official name of the country under Qaddafi -- was replaced with the pre-Qaddafi royal red-black-and-green flag in front of Libya’s UN mission in New York. The large Qaddafi portrait in the lobby has also been removed.

A low-ranking Libyan diplomat said that the mission is operating as usual and that all staffers are performing their regular duties. Have any of the staffers tried in recent days to apply for jobs within the UN system? Not to his knowledge. A UN job can be a lifeboat for diplomats who might lose their jobs and are stripped of their accreditation. This is easier for senior diplomats but much harder for low-ranking staff. Without accreditation, they cannot remain legally in the United States.

One possible explanation why the switch of allegiances at Libya’s UN mission was so resolute, might be due to the other Libyan diplomatic outpost in the United States, the embassy in Washington, denouncing Qaddafi’s regime. Ali Aujali, the Libyan ambassador to the United States, announced his resignation and said on American television that it was time to get rid of Qaddafi.

The website of Libya’s UN mission so far does not reflect the country's recent events. Muammar Qaddafi speeches and photos are prominently displayed under the headline, "Leader of the Revolution of Libya."

The UN Security Council is scheduled to hold a second round of talks on the Libya crisis on February 25. Nobody at the UN knows for sure whether Shalgham or Dabbashi will speak on behalf of their country.

-- Nikola Krastev

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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