Fighting continues between various rebel factions in eastern Libya. Dozens of people have so far been reported killed., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
January 15, 2013
Italy Closes Consulate in Benghazi After New Attack
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
New York Times
ROME — Italy closed its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and withdrew its staff because of security concerns, after an attempted ambush of the Italian consul over the weekend.
Though the diplomat, Guido De Sanctis, escaped unharmed, the episode raised concerns about the tenuous security situation in Libya as the transitional government struggles to rebuild the country after the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi nearly two years ago.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said the attack was an attempt to disrupt the Libyan government’s efforts, “further proof of the international community’s need to intensify support for the Libyan people and institutions.”
In the ambush on Saturday, gunmen fired on Mr. De Sanctis as he drove through Benghazi, but none of the bullets penetrated his vehicle, an armored model that was issued to him after the Sept. 11 assault on the American mission in Benghazi, in which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Officials in Tripoli pledged to bring those responsible for Saturday’s attack to justice, the Italian government said. But the Libyan government has done little or nothing to pursue those who assaulted the American Mission, and there have been attacks on the Red Cross and on a British envoy’s motorcade in Benghazi over the past year.
The Associated Press reported Monday that the government intended to create a security force to protect embassies and consulates that would include former rebels who now serve in the national police.
Italy, which ruled Libya as a colony until World War II, is the country’s closest European ally. Commercial relations were strong during Colonel Qaddafi’s rule, a state of affairs that Italian diplomats and business leaders have sought to preserve. The president of Libya, Mohamed Magariaf, traveled to Rome last week for talks with Italian political and businesses leaders, and the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, is scheduled to visit Italy at the end of this month.
At a meeting in Rome last Thursday, Mr. Magariaf assured his hosts that security was among his government’s “top concerns.” He said his government was receiving Italian assistance to train Libyan soldiers and police officers.