Libya parades its obsolete weapons of war: On the 25th anniversary of his coming to power, Gaddafi finds he has few friends

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a display of military hardware rather than power. For all the billions squandered on tanks and planes - over dollars 20bn ( pounds 13bn) in the splurge years - Libya was unable to defend itself against attack by US warplanes in 1986. And those on display yesterday had only once been used in battle - not in defence of the homeland, but in Libya's disastrous invasion of neighbouring Chad.

Political relations, however, have changed. The Chadian president attended the Great Jamahiriya jamboree yesterday for the 25th anniversary of the Libyan revolution. For Libya - keen to show it is a law-abiding member of the world community - has accepted and implemented the decision of the International Court of Justice at the Hague determining sovereignty of the disputed Aouzou Strip in favour of Chad.

Other heads of state in attendance included Sudan's Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and Algeria's Lamine Zeroual. Like Muammar Gaddafi, they are military men. Neither owe their positions to any expression of popular will. Also there was Esmat abdel Meguid, secretary-general of the Arab League, effectively an annexe of Egypt's Foreign Ministry, which has been seeking a way out for Libya from the sanctions imposed for its refusal to hand over two intelligence agents wanted in connection with the Lockerbie bombing.

Once upon a time, military attaches would have had their binoculars trained on this display of Libya's huge arsenal. But most of the weaponry was bought for cash from the Soviet Union in the first flush of Libya's oil wealth in the Seventies.

The greater part of the 1,100 tanks on view were outdated T-62s and modified T- 54/55s. They were in shabby state and far from combat- ready. Only a handful of previous-generation MiG-23, MiG-25, Sukhoi-22 and Mirages were sufficiently airworthy to take part in the fly- past.

Colonel Gaddafi has always been wary of the army, since he himself used a soldier's career as a jumping-off point to launch the coup d'etat, whose 25th anniversary was being celebrated.

Last October units mutinied in circumstances still unclear. Since then, he has been actively going round the country glad- handing people at every opportuniy to bolster his position. The army is well looked after in terms of pay and conditions. But the freeze on Libya's assets abroad and the arms embargo have reduced the opportunities for senior officers to enhance their incomes through commissions.

Yesterday Colonel Gaddafi compensated for this loss by appointing, for the first time, officers to the rank of general - some 21 in all - according to military sources in Tripoli. He had resisted this step since he did not wish to be outranked. Three of the five surviving members from the original 12-man Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) were elevated. They were Colonel Abu Bakr Younis, Major Mustapha Kharroubi, and Major Khuwaildi Hamidi. Colonel Gaddafi's long-term deputy, Major Abdul Salam Jalloud, was not so honoured. It has long been rumoured that Major Jalloud is in disgrace. It is also possible that he, like Colonel Gaddafi, needs no such position, since his role within the RCC is so clear.

He also honoured members of his own family. At a reception with the few visiting dignitaries who had trekked overland to Libya, and with the diplomatic corps, he awarded sashes to his three sons. Not only the North Korean delegation were wondering whether he was establishing a dynasty.

(Photograph omitted)

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