The Canadian government is preparing to allow Libya's rebels to post an envoy to Ottawa to replace the pro-Gadhafi diplomats being kicked out of their embassy and the country.
In a bid to show support for the rebels' legitimacy, Ottawa is considering whether it can transfer the embassy, the ambassador's house and the embassy's frozen bank accounts to the new representative – even though the rebels' National Transitional Council is not in control of the whole country.
Officials are still examining whether a transfer of those assets would be legal, a government source said, and it is not yet clear whether the new NTC representative will be called the Libyan ambassador.
On Monday night, the Harper government announced it was expelling all four remaining Libyan diplomats at the embassy in Ottawa, giving them five business days to leave the country, and freezing the embassy's bank accounts.
But a senior representative of the rebel council says Ottawa has accepted the posting of an opposition envoy, in a move expected to be made official within a few days.
"My understanding is there is an acceptance by the Canadian government to receive a representative of the NTC as soon as possible," said Ibrahim Dabbashi, the second-in-command at the Libyan mission to the United Nations in New York, which is now in the control of the rebel NTC after diplomats defected en masse in February. "We are trying to find someone in the mission here [at the UN]to be posted in Ottawa."
It comes as the NTC has shown signs of fractiousness that have worried allies. The killing of rebel military commander General Abdel Fatah Younis last month underscored divisions in the opposition to Moammar Gadhafi; on Monday, the entire NTC cabinet was dismissed, with NTC chair Mustafa Abdel Jalil expected to name a new one this week.
But a few allies have moved to allow NTC embassies. Britain recognized the National Transitional Council as the "legitimate governing authority" in Libya, and now treats it, not the Gadhafi regime, as the Libyan government. An NTC ambassador took over the Libyan embassy in London on Tuesday.
And in Washington, where Libyan ambassador Ali Aujali defected to the opposition in the early days of protests in February, NTC diplomats re-entered the embassy this week after an order from the U.S. government handing the embassy over to the opposition.
The Canadian government would not say this week whether the NTC will be invited to replace the pro-Gadhafi embassy. A government source who spoke on condition he not be identified said the government is "considering all options."
That's because it's not yet clear what kind of envoy the new NTC representative in Ottawa will officially be: whether he will be called Libya's ambassador or merely an NTC representative, with an office, who will nonetheless be formally considered the legitimate voice of Libyans. The question of whether the embassy, property of the Libyan state, can be legally transferred is a key part of the conundrum.
Queen's University fellow and former diplomat Louis Delvoie argued that closing the pro-Gadhafi embassy was overdue because Canada has effectively been at war with that regime for four months. But he also argued that accepting an NTC embassy would be premature, not only because it's not in effective control of all of Libya, but because Ottawa should be concerned about divisions within the NTC, and a lack of clarity about who really controls it.
"The transitional council is anything but a cohesive, unified body," he said. "And it has every prospect of splitting apart during the struggle against Gadhafi, but even more probably, once the struggle is over. Because the only thing, basically, that unifies them, is the desire to get rid of Gadhafi. So recognizing the council as a government is rather premature."