Libya’s new de facto premier on Thursday used his first major address in Tripoli to warn that liberation was not yet complete and the hardest battles were yet to come.
Speaking in the capital for the first time since Moamer Kadhafi’s ouster, Mahmud Jibril laid out the stark challenges ahead for a nation reborn in the fire of a seven-month-long civil war.
If Libyans were expecting a triumphalist address two weeks after Kadhafi’s fall from power they would have been chastened.
“The battle of liberation is not finished,” said the deputy head of the victorious National Transitional Council (NTC) in comments broadcast live across the country from offices occupied by the ousted leader.
“What the Libyans have accomplished is an unprecedented achievement in modern and recent history, however our biggest challenge is still ahead of us.”
As thoughts turn to revenge and justice against allies of the 42-year dictatorship, Jibril called for order and reconciliation.
“The first challenge is to win against ourselves, and the second challenge is the ability to forgive.”
“So the choice in front of Libyans is either to take action against those who shaped our past, or to build a new future for themselves and their future sons and generations.”
A key part of beginning that new chapter will undoubtedly be the capture of Kadhafi himself. But Jibril gave few clues about how close the NTC was to tracking him down.
The battle for Libya’s liberation will end with the “capture or elimination of Kahdafi,” he said, because then his followers will truly know that the strongman is “out of the picture.”
When asked about the location of the fugitive leader, Jibril said it would be unwise for the NTC to announce his whereabouts. “We will not be divulging that information.”
But there was a message for those towns and villages which remain resolute in their support for the Kadhafi regime ahead of a Saturday deadline to lay down their arms that looks increasingly redundant.
After rocket attacks on pro-NTC troops near Bani Walid on Thursday, Jibril said the window for a negotiation and peaceful solution was nearly closed.
“Unfortunately, this chance was violated and exploited by putting more soldiers and fomenting Libyans to kill each other. We don’t really see that the other side truly wants to take a chance and avoid bloodshed,” Jibril said.
“We have the right to defend ourselves even before the deadline,” he added sternly.
As life returns to normal in the capital Jibril also warned against rushing the political process before the battle for Libya is over and reiterated his promise not to run for office in the immediate future.
“Some have made preparations and attempts to start the political game, before reaching a common consensus on the rules of the game,” he said.
“Once the battle is truly finished, there is an interim government and a constitution is agreed upon, the political game can start. As I promised in the past, I will not take part in that.”