Conflict & Justice

Libya's top oil chief defects in Rome

Libya sent a replacement representative to a meeting of gas exporting countries on Thursday following the defection of the country’s top oil chief.

Shokri Ghanem, who was chairman of the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation, was to attend a one-day meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Cairo. But on Wednesday he defected to the side of the rebels, complaining of the “unbearable” violence in Libya.

Instead, Libya sent Mosbah Ali Matoug, a member of the management committee of the state-run oil company, Bloomberg reports. The forum is an 11-nation group that controls two-thirds of the world’s natural gas reserves.

The defection of Ghanem, who is also a former prime minister, came two days after eight army officers defected, including five generals, Reuters reports.

Ghanem appeared in Rome on Wednesday after his whereabouts had been unknown for several days, and the Libyan government had admitted it lost contact with him after he travelled to Tunisia supposedly on official business.

"I left the country and decided also to leave my job and to join the choice of Libyan youth to create a modern constitutional state respecting human rights and building a better future for all Libyans," Ghanem said, speaking at a news conference in Rome.

"I have been working in Libya for so many years believing that we can make a lot of reform from within. Unfortunately this became not possible, especially now, when we see the spilling of blood every day in Libya, our best youth and our best men getting killed."

Libya’s rebel leadership welcomed Ghanem’s defection, Agence France-Presse reports.

"In recent days and weeks we have witnessed an acceleration in defections from the Gaddafi regime, which has no legitimacy, credibility or future," Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice president of the rebel group in the east of Libya, said in a statement.

The British government’s foreign office said Ghanem had fled in what was a sign of a regime “isolated and on the defensive,” the Financial Times reports.

“Ghanem is the latest in a long line of senior figures who have abandoned their positions, including ministers, generals, ambassadors, and bankers,” the foreign office said. “We have made it very clear that Gaddafi has to go, and that those around him should leave this brutal and illegitimate regime.”