David Cameron visited Libya yesterday and promised more help to improve the capacity of the police and army in the country, in the face of continuing militia and terrorist violence.
There was no announcement of the Prime Minister’s visit until after it was under way because of security fears, after a week that has seen Britain warn of threats against its nationals at the Tripoli embassy and in Libya’s second city, Benghazi.
Mr Cameron flew from Algiers to assure Libyans that Britain stood behind their efforts to build democracy on the ruins left by Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal 42-year rule.
“In building the new Libya, you will have no greater friend than the United Kingdom,” he said. “We will stand with you every step of the way.”
Speaking at a press conference alongside democratically-elected counterpart Ali Zaidan, he said he was proud of the UK’s support for the revolution.
“In Britain we are proud to have helped you in ending the brutal dictatorship of Gaddafi and proud to have been part of your democratic revolution.”
Asked whether the situation in Libya would be safer if Gaddafi had not been deposed, Mr Cameron replied: “The idea that Colonel Gaddafi gave either the people of Libya or the people of Britain stability and security is a complete fiction.
Under the package of support, the number of advisers working on training programmes for Libyan forces is being boosted from eight to 16.
The number of UK police advisers is going up from two to three, and another expert will be embedded with the ministry of the interior.
Members of the Libyan navy will be invited to attend a five-month training course at Warminster. There will also be a British-funded £4.5 million job creation package focusing on ex-militia.
Mr Cameron met friendly crowds in Tripoli’s central Martyrs’ Square, named in memory of the dead of the 2011 civil war, in which Nato bombing provided a decisive role.
“There is no real freedom, no real democracy, no real chance of prosperity without proper security,” Mr Cameron told cadets at a police academy outside the city.
With memories of the killing of America’s Libya ambassador in Benghazi in September still fresh in many minds, Mr Cameron travelled in an armoured vehicle in a 16-vehicle convoy.
He met Mr Zaidan, who is struggling to hold together a new cabinet in a country riven by tribal and regional rivalries, cross-cut by bitterness between former rebels and those who supported Gaddafi’s regime.
Diplomats acknowledge that Mr Zaidan’s toughest task will be to persuade more than 500 militias to put aside their differences and allow the government to establish a singular police force across the country.
Many in the new 120-seat congress feel the same way.
“Security, security, security, this is Libya’s biggest problem,” said Hassan El Amin, an elected politician from Misrata who spent 28 years in exile in the UK.
Efforts to establish a unified police force backfired and Libya now relies for most of its security on the Libya Shield, a loose alliance of the most powerful militias.