Canada considers re-engaging in Libya

The United States, Italy, Britain, and Turkey have agreed to train thousands of Libyan troops to counter the instability caused by the numerous and often opposing militias that remain powerful there more than two years after the overthrow of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The United States will conduct its training in Bulgaria. Britain, Italy, and Turkey will theirs in their own countries. It is expected that current militia members will be among the recruits, although the United States will vet names supplied by the Libyan Defence Ministry to exclude hard-line Islamists.

Canada, which played an active role in the armed uprising against Gadhafi’s regime, has not said it will take part in this training mission. But Jean-Bruno Villeneuve, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, says Canada is “considering other ways to help further Libyan security sector reform.”

It would not be the first time Canada has tried to bolster Libya’s new government since NATO competed its military intervention there in 2011. Between 2011 and 2013, Foreign Affairs funded a program through the NGO CANADEM to send 11 civilian advisors to Libya to work in various government departments, including the defence and interior ministries.

“The aim of all of our security sector reform projects was to build capacity or help the ministries develop policy that would enable the Gov’t of Libya to absorb and retrain a greater number of revolutionaries into the police and the armed forces,” Christine Vincent, deputy executive director of CANADEM wrote in an email to Maclean’s.

The program, which cost DFATD 750 thousand dollars, ended in March. CANADEM, in conjunction with a couple of other agencies, has applied to DFATD for funding to do further work in Libya and expects a response shortly.

Fathi Baja, Libya’s new ambassador to Canada, says a lack of security is the “main concern” of his government and said he will ask Canada to help Libya rebuild its army and police forces.

Baja, a former political science professor at the University of Benghazi, says he also hopes Canada can help Libya develop its civil society, perhaps by training Libyan youth and other leaders at schools here.

The smothering and all-encompassing nature of Gadhafi’s long rule crippled the development of even rudimentary democracy or well-functioning government institutions in Libya, Baja says.

“We need members who understand the role of parliament, how you form committees inside it, how to make this legislative body work in a good way. We need that. We never had it before. I believe Canada can participate I this, can train Libyans in this matter.”

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