APNewsBreak: Gadhafi insider defects

June 13, 2011 - 12:30 PM

LONDON (AP) — Another member of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's regime has defected and fled the country, two Libyan analysts in London said Monday, as fighting continued between government troops and rebel forces.

Sassi Garada, one of the first men to join Gadhafi when he took power more than 40 years ago, left Libya through Tunisia, according to Noman Benotman, a Libyan analyst in London who was in contact with his friends and family. Guma el-Gamaty, U.K. organizer for Libya's interim council, also confirmed the defection.

There were initial reports that Garada fled to Britain, where he has several family members, but Benotman said Garada was in Switzerland.

British officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss immigration and security matters, said they could not confirm whether Garada was in the U.K. Swiss Foreign ministry spokeswoman Carole Waelti told AP the government was "not aware of the possible presence of Mr. Garada in Switzerland."

A longtime supporter of Gadhafi, Garada reportedly passed up several military promotions over the years to stay out of the limelight and serve Gadhafi, according to Benotman, who works as an analyst for the London-based Quilliam Foundation.

Garada is also from Libya's Berber minority, which has often fought with the Arab majority to have their language and customs protected. Many of the Berbers also occupy the Western mountains of Libya, where Garada had been in charge of trying to neutralize tensions, el-Gamaty said.

It is not known why Garada defected or when, but he is one in a growing list of senior officials who have fled the country, suggesting Gadhafi may be losing his grip on power.

Last month, Shukri Ghanem, the Libyan oil minister and head of the National Oil Co., crossed into neighboring Tunisia.

Others who have defected include Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, one of Gadhafi's earliest supporters; Interior Minister Abdel-Fatah Younes; Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former U.N. General Assembly president. A number of ambassadors and other diplomats also have resigned.

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Meera Selva contributed to this report from London and John Heilprin from Geneva.