Libya’s oil minister has reportedly fled the tattered regime of Moammar Gaddafi and defected to Tunisia over the weekend, making him one of the most prominent Libyan officials to abandon Tripoli.
Shukri Ghanem, head of the state-controlled Libya's National Oil Co. entered Tunisia by road on Monday, according to the Tunisian interior ministry. He joins a list of other important defectors, including Moussa Koussa, the ex-foreign minister; Abdel-Fatah Younes, the former interior minister; Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the former justice minister, and Ali Abdessalam Treki, the former UN General Assembly president.
Several other ambassadors and diplomats have also joined the exodus.
However, Ghanem’s apparent defection has not been confirmed by Tripoli.
Libyan government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim initially said that Ghanem was visiting Tunis on “official; business,” but later stated that the government has not had any contact with the oil minister since Monday.
Ghanem, a former Prime Minister, is one of the targets of sanctions by the United States Treasury Department.
Abdel Moneim al-Houni, a former Libyan Arab League representative who has also defected, told media that he spoke to Ghanem in Tunisia.
Most of the [government] officials remaining in Tripoli are forced to stay under intimidation and pressure. They are not happy with what is happening, Al-Houni told the Associated Press.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Ghanem had disagreed with Gaddafi before. In 2009, he was temporarily relieved of his job after arguing with two of Gaddafi’s sons over how to reform Libya’s political and economic system.
Meanwhile, NATO aircraft continue to bombard Gaddafi targets in an effort to impose a no-fly zone and protect civilians from government attacks. On Tuesday, NATO struck the Interior Ministry in Tripoli, settling it ablaze,
Separately, a group of Gaddafi envoys are in Moscow seeking that country’s help in brokering a ceasefire.
Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Gaddafi is willing to consider a peace proposal offered by the African Union that calls for dialogue between the Tripoli government and rebels based in Benghazi.
The rebels have rejected the plan.