TRIPOLI — British Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise visit to Tripoli on Thursday for talks centred on security, just days after his government, which played a key role in Libya’s revolution, warned of threats to its embassy.
He flew into Tripoli before, his entourage ringed by security, heading to a police academy for a ceremony, accompanied by Libyan Interior Minister Ashur Shwayel.
“I will never forget the scenes I saw in Tripoli and [the eastern city of] Benghazi,” Cameron said after arriving, in reference to the 2011 revolution that toppled dictator Muammar Qadhafi.
“The British people want to stand with you and help you deliver the greater security that Libya needs,” the premier was quoted by the BBC as saying.
“So we have offered training and support from our police and our military. We look forward to working together in the years ahead.”
Speaking to reporters later, Cameron said British police investigating the 1988 bombing of a passenger jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which killed 270 people, would visit Libya.
“I am delighted that the Dumfries and Galloway police team will be able to visit your country to look into the issues around the Lockerbie bombing,” he told a joint news conference with his Libyan counterpart Ali Zeidan.
Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet Al Megrahi was the only person convicted of the bombing. He died of cancer in May, almost three years after the Scottish government freed him from jail on compassionate grounds.
Cameron also said police investigating the murder of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, killed outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984, had been able to come to Tripoli three times since the 2011 revolution.
That would have been “unthinkable”, he said, before Qadhafi was toppled and killed in 2011.
“We are your friends. We are your supporters. We want to work with you, to stand with you [to] build a safe, secure and prosperous democracy here in Libya,” said the British premier.
“There is no true freedom, no true democracy without stability and security as well.”
A Libyan official told AFP security cooperation would top Cameron’s agenda during his talks in Tripoli.
Downing Street said Cameron would “discuss how the UK can continue to help build a strong, prosperous, democratic” Libya, while the British embassy said he was in the country to support the transition to democracy.
On January 24, Britain urged its nationals to leave Benghazi immediately because of a “specific and imminent threat to Westerners” in the city on Libya’s east coast, a move matched by several other Western nations.
That sparked anger from Libya, which said the threat had been exaggerated and there was “no new intelligence” to justify such concerns in the city that was the cradle of the uprising against Qadhafi.
Britain had closed its mission in Benghazi around the same time and updated its official advice to warn against travelling there and indeed to most of Libya.
On Monday, Britain said it had also identified a “potential threat” to its embassy in Tripoli.
The Foreign Office, which already warns against “all but essential travel” to the Libyan capital, said its travel advice remained unchanged.
Cameron visited Algeria on Wednesday to strike a new security partnership between the two countries, little more than two weeks after a deadly hostage crisis at a Sahara gas plant in that country.
His spokeswoman said before his departure that Cameron would seek a partnership with Algeria on tackling extremism, reflecting growing concern in London about unrest in North Africa, and in Mali.
The premier was accompanied by his national security adviser and a trade envoy, Downing Street said, while British reports said the head of foreign intelligence service MI6 was also on the trip.
Six Britons are believed to have been among 37 foreign hostages killed when gunmen stormed the Sahara gas plant and the Algerian army launched a military assault in response.
One Algerian and 29 gunmen were also killed.
Cameron is in the region en route to Liberia, where he will co-chair an international development conference on Friday.