POLITICS

Canadian diplomats in Libya's capital to open temporary embassy: Baird

09/13/2011 09:32 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:22 EST
OTTAWA - Canada is reopening its embassy in Libya's capital, even as fighting continues in pockets of the country still held by loyalists of the hunted dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

A diplomatic team led by Canada's ambassador to Libya, Sandra McCardell, arrived in Tripoli on the weekend and have conducted a security assessment, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said today.

Canada will establish a temporary embassy while the old one is refurbished, Baird said.

"Gadhafi is almost universally isolated," Baird said. "He and those closest to him are on the run.

"And the Libyan people have taken real steps to ensure for themselves a brighter future. The pace of change has been truly remarkable."

Canada is determined to support them, the minister said.

It will resume trade between the two countries and has received permission from the United Nations to free $2.2 billion in frozen assets for humanitarian needs.

"The determination of the people of Libya has been clear throughout this process. Canada is determined to support the people of Libya in the next stages of its history."

"We now expect the new government to fulfil its commitment to freedom, to democracy, to human rights and to the rule of law."

Officials speaking to The Canadian Press on Monday wouldn't comment on the state of Canada's abandoned diplomatic mission.

The diplomats have set up shop at an alternative location in Tripoli, and will be joined by a full contingent of foreign service officers to get operations running.

Canadian fighter jets played a major role in the UN-mandated NATO-led bombardment to protect civilians from Gadhafi, who has ruled the North African nation with an iron fist for four decades.

Gadhafi's regime has crumbled. From hiding, he urged his followers Monday to keep up the fight.

Canada joined several dozen other countries this past spring in recognizing the Libyan rebels, the National Transitional Council, as the true representatives of the Libyan people.

In June, Baird visited the rebels in their stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya but stopped short of establishing a diplomatic outpost there as some NATO allies had chosen to do.

At a recent international meeting on Libya in Paris, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signalled his impatience with delays in providing the rebel council the money it needs to run the country and restore "a normal life" for its people.

Harper has said he had received assurance that a new Libyan government would honour contracts with Canadian companies.

McCardell has played a key role in leading Canada's Libya strategy since she was withdrawn from Libya earlier this year before NATO began its air strikes.

Technically, she will have to present her diplomatic credentials to the new Libyan government before she formally becomes Canada's full-fledged ambassador once again.

An American team of diplomats also arrived in Tripoli on the weekend to restore and secure the U.S. embassy, in part out of concern that it may have been booby-trapped during the fighting.