Tony Blair's credibility as Middle East envoy suffered a blow last night as the Libyan rebels' new ambassador to London said his country has not forgotten the then British Prime Minister getting into a tent with the "dictator" Colonel Gaddafi.
Mahmud Nacua, in his first interview since the National Transitional Council took control of the Libyan embassy in Kensington, said the Libyan people supported "courageous" David Cameron, but were "not satisfied" with Mr Blair's closeness to the old regime. He claimed the rebel forces could oust Gaddafi within a month.
The 74-year-old poet and academic, who has lived in the UK for 23 years, hopes to use his new ambassadorial role to rebuild relations between Britain and his homeland.
At the outset of the uprisings in Libya, Mr Blair made two phone calls to Colonel Gaddafi, urging him to stop killing protesters and stand down. But this action failed to repair the damage done by his decision as PM to offer "the hand of friendship" to Libya – in particular, the "deal in the desert" in May 2007 when Col Gaddafi renounced terror in exchange for lucrative deals to exploit Libya's oil reserves.
Asked how Libyans now felt about Mr Blair, Mr Nacua said: "They feel a bit not satisfied with what was done by Blair with Gaddafi because Gaddafi is a dictator. But they are very pleased to have Cameron, for his way of thinking and his stand with the Libyan people."
He also criticised the Scottish government's decision in August 2009 to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people. He left a Scottish jail suffering from prostate cancer, amid claims he had only three months to live. He is still alive today.
"I don't know exactly why they released him, but I think it is a not wise decision," Mr Nacua said, adding that the court decision to jail him should have been respected.
Speaking in his new office, Mr Nacua dismissed claims made in Libya that the riots on British streets last week were an attempt to overthrow the Government. "There is a recession in the world, and Britain is a part of this world. It is affecting the life of the people and some people get frustrated. They are angry. It is just kind of noisy comments: it means nothing. Always in democratic countries, because the people enjoy the freedom, they come to the streets. Some make mistakes, breaking windows of cars. That is the price of democracy."
Mr Nacua claimed the next three or four weeks would see "more dramatic advance and change on the ground" against Col Gaddafi. Intelligence from the front line in the past 48 hours suggested the rebels were advancing on Zawiya, Zlitan and Brega on the road to Tripoli, he said.
British sources suggest that Col Gaddafi will be ousted by the end of the year, but Mr Nacua expects it to come sooner. "The fighters are very close to Tripoli, and we know that the morale of the people with him is very weak. Most of them which [are] now arrested by the fighters are mercenaries from Africa, and I think the rest of the Libyan officers and soldiers in a few weeks will defect. That's my expectation." Asked if it could happen by next month, he added: "Maybe. I can't confirm that, but maybe."
He claimed Col Gaddafi will not leave Tripoli, but "will die or be arrested". The Libyan people "need him to leave the country or he will face his fate inside the country."
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, last month announced that Britain recognised the NTC as Libya's legitimate government, and ordered the Gaddafi regime's diplomats to leave London within three days. The new embassy officially opened on Tuesday, with around 40 staff, including some who had defected. Mr Nacua played down reports that the departing Libyan diplomats embarked on a £100m "fire sale" of property, cars and electrical equipment.
"They tried, but it is just childish thinking because all the buildings, all the properties... are frozen. This is a new era for Libya, for the embassy, for myself, for the community. We want to give a new face for Libya in this embassy.
"In the past, a lot of trouble came from the embassy in London, but we want to show the promise of Libya, post-Gaddafi," he said, alluding to the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, shot dead in 1984 outside the Libyan People's Bureau in St James's Square.
Mr Cameron had been "courageous" and "genuine" in his promise to help the Libyan people. "He is one of the leaders who will never be forgotten in the Libyan memory. All the Libyan [people] inside the country and outside [are] very grateful for what has been done by the British government. It is a new era in the Arabic world. In the past, we had the dream to have this kind of revolution, to change this corrupted government, this corrupted president and the dream very quick became a reality."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies