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Mussa Ibrahim, a Libyan government spokesman, holds a news conference in Tripoli March 31, 2011. Ibrahim on Thursday confirmed that Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa had resigned but said he did not know of any other official who had resigned or left the country.

STR/REUTERS

Most high-ranking Libyan officials are trying to defect but are under tight security and having difficulty leaving the country, a top Libyan diplomat now supporting the opposition said Thursday.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador, told The Associated Press that Libya's UN mission, which now totally supports the opposition, knew two days in advance that Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa planned to defect on Wednesday.

He said the mission had been waiting for about 10 days for Thursday's defection of Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister selected by Moammar Gadhafi to be the new UN ambassador.

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"We know that most of the high Libyan officials are trying to defect, but most of them are under tight security measures and they cannot leave the country, but we are sure that many of them will benefit from the first chance to be out of the country and to defect," Mr. Dabbashi said.

"I don't think it is easy," he said. "But anyway, who has the will, he will find the way."

Mr. Dabbashi wouldn't name any senior Libyans considering defecting, saying only "we have some indications that some others will defect."

Asked why senior Libyan officials are defecting - or want to defect - now instead of last month when opposition protests against Col. Gadhafi's 41-year rule began, Mr. Dabbashi said it was a reaction to the regime's attacks on civilians.

"The normal human behaviour is to disconnect from this regime," he said.

Mr. Dabbashi said Mr. Koussa's defection in Britain is especially significant because he was the chief of external intelligence for about eight years and foreign minister for about two years.

"This is a big blow to the regime," he said.

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Britain refused Thursday to offer Libya's former foreign minister immunity from prosecution after his apparent defection, raising the possibility that Mr. Koussa could be prosecuted for his past role in propping up Col. Gadhafi's regime.

Within hours, Scottish prosecutors said they were seeking Mr. Koussa for questioning over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, many of them Americans.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed what he said was Mr. Koussa's resignation, saying it showed that the Libyan leader's regime was "fragmented, under pressure and crumbling from within."

Mr. Hague said "Koussa is not being offered any immunity from British or international justice," dampening speculation that the British government might seek to overlook allegations - levelled by Libya's opposition - that he played a pivotal role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, among other atrocities.

"Gadhafi must be thinking to himself, 'Who will be the next to walk away'?" Mr. Hague said.

Mr. Koussa's apparent defection to London has been hailed by the rebels as a sign that Mr. Gadhafi's regime is cracking at the highest levels. But Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Thursday that Mr. Koussa's decision was personal and "other people will step in and do the job."

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Mr. Hague said it wouldn't be "helpful to advertise" whether or not other senior members of the regime planned to quit but that he believes many likely privately opposed Col. Gadhafi's actions.

Authorities debriefed Mr. Koussa, a trusted Gadhafi adviser and longtime stalwart in the Libyan regime, after he fled to Britain on Wednesday on a private plane from Tunisia. Mr. Hague said Mr. Koussa was in a "secure place in the United Kingdom," but did not disclose further details.

The Libyan opposition alleges that Mr. Koussa, regarded as one of Col. Gadhafi's closest allies, had a role in masterminding the Pan Am bombing. Mr. Koussa was expelled from Britain in 1980 after giving an interview advocating the use of violence to silence critics of Libya's government in Britain.

Though Mr. Koussa's name was long connected with liquidating dissidents in Western and Arab capitals, he later became instrumental in negotiations with the West that led to the dismantling of Libya's nuclear program.

His name also was associated with the bombing of a French aircraft over Niger in 1989, but in recent years he helped with diplomatic progress that ended Libya's international isolation.

In the United States, Tommy Vietor, National Security Council spokesman, described the defection to be a significant blow to the Gadhafi regime.

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"The people around Gadhafi have to choose whether to place their bet on a regime that has lost all legitimacy and face grave consequences, or get on the right side of history," he said. "Moussa Kusa's decision shows which way the wind is blowing in Tripoli."

Scotland's Crown Office said it was seeking to quiz Mr. Koussa over Lockerbie, saying the investigation into the attack remains open.

Former foreign secretary Jack Straw described Mr. Koussa as a key player who had a "fundamentally important" role in negotiations to bring Libya back into the international fold in the 1990s after terror attacks tainted the North African country's reputation. Mr. Koussa's departure would shift the balance away from Col. Gadhafi, if only psychologically.

"Moussa Koussa's apparent defection - certainly his unscheduled visit here - will be a very important factor in just adding to the weight against the Gadhafi regime and tipping the balance against him," Straw told BBC radio. "From a distance, what's clear is that there is unlikely to be any military 'victory' for either side. So it does depend on which side psychologically collapses."

Mr. Koussa's move would be the first high-profile resignation since the U.S.-led air strikes on Libyan forces began. Libya's justice and interior ministers resigned early in the conflict and joined the rebels fighting in the east.

In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and agreed to pay restitution to the victims. Col. Gadhafi also announced he was dismantling his nuclear-weapons program, bringing a major breakthrough in U.S.-Libyan ties. Those steps prompted the United States and Europe to lift sanctions against Libya.

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Britain restored diplomatic relations in 1999, ending Libya's international isolation.

Guma El-Gamaty, an organizer in Britain for a leading Libyan opposition group, said Mr. Koussa's action would be "a big hit" that would weaken Col. Gadhafi.

"He has been Gadhafi's right-hand man for years, running intelligence, running the Lockerbie bomber negotiations, running many things."

He said that Mr. Koussa would not be welcomed into the opposition movement because of his prior actions on behalf of the Gadhafi government.

With reports from The Associated Press

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