Libya's Top Diplomat in Berlin
'I Am No Longer Gadhafi's Ambassador'
Libya's ambassadors to the United Nations, the US and India renounced the Gadhafi regime long ago. But the country's ambassador to Germany, Jamal El-Baraq, kept quiet. Now he has distanced himself from the dictator in a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Baraq, former Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa fled the country in March. Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem is reported to have defected. And now there are even rumors that Moammar Gadhafi's wife and daughter have arrived in Tunisia. What is your position regarding the regime in Tripoli?
Baraq: It will collapse. The regime is fighting against its own people. It fires on defenseless people with heavy artillery. I come from Misrata -- my whole family comes from there. Every day, acquaintances and friends of ours are being killed there. A school friend of my son Rawad has just died.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why are you only making such critical remarks now? Why did you not renounce the regime long ago, like your fellow ambassadors in Delhi and in Washington? Abdurrahman Shalgham, Libya's former ambassador to the United Nations, did so right at the beginning of the crisis.
Baraq: I called Shalgham at the time. He was the person who originally sent me to Berlin as ambassador. He told me: Continue with your work for now. And that's what I did. Libya's people's bureaus (ed's note: Libya' s official name for its embassies) abroad represent, as the name suggests, the people. I am no longer Gadhafi's ambassador. I am a representative of the Libyan people.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you hereby dissociating yourself from the regime in Tripoli?
Baraq: I will no longer accept what this regime is doing. I hate what the regime is doing. A government has to protect its people, not kill them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: If you now see things that way, how can you stay in your position?
Baraq: Because Shalgham advised me to do so. Ever since the UN adopted Resolution 1973, I have not done any more political work. I only come into the office occasionally. But we have over 700 Libyan students in Germany. I make sure that they get their €1,800 allowance each month and that their health insurance and tuition fees are paid.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So you are still receiving money from Libya?
Baraq: We have enough money to last us until June. The last transfer arrived just over a month ago. But Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt has not released the funds. Our branch in Berlin is now trying to find out if this is perhaps possible.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How much money do you actually get?
Baraq: At the end of each quarter we receive our budget for the next three months: about €1.6 million per month for the students and a smaller amount, about €150,000 per month, to cover the salaries of the embassy staff.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you really have no other funds on top of that? Were you not the person who acquired the properties in Munich where Gadhafi's son Saif al-Arab Gadhafi lived before he returned to Libya, before reportedly being killed during a NATO air strike two weeks ago?
Baraq: That is correct. I was responsible for buying the house where he lived. But I had no personal dealings with him.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are your current plans?
Baraq: I am currently trying to get the German Foreign Ministry to issue visas for 11 seriously injured people from Misrata who are currently in hospitals in Turkey and Tunisia. Nothing more can be done for them there.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The German authorities would probably find it easier to accommodate your wishes if you had publicly expressed your position earlier.
Baraq: The German Foreign Ministry knows my position.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Foreign Ministry summoned you in early April and expelled five of your diplomats from Germany.
Baraq: I had no problem with that. Some of them had already left the country anyway.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why did you not at least use that opportunity to distance yourself from the Gadhafi regime?
Baraq: Let me repeat what I said earlier. I followed the advice of my former foreign minister, Abdurrahman Shalgham, who is a very experienced diplomat.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But he took a risk and distanced himself from the regime right at the beginning of the war.
Baraq: In his case that also meant something. It was a sign that was recognized all over the world. My situation is somewhat different. I have to take care of the Libyan community living in Germany.