Q&A with Mahmud Nacua, Libyan Charge d’Affairs in London

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Mahmud Nacua, the Charge d'affaires of the Libyan Embassy, stands outside the Libyan Embassy on August 22, 2011 in London, England. (Oli Scarff-Getty Images)

Mahmud Nacua, 74, never expected to be an ambassador. Nor did he ever expect to step foot in Libya’s embassy in London, let alone run it. But that’s exactly where the former journalist for Arabic language papers Asharq Al-awsat and Alhayat, who spent two years in prison in Libya for his writings in the 1970s, finds himself – inside the embassy he so often protested looking out from behind the heavily barred windows. The grandfather of four is the National Transitional Council’s top man in the U.K., an important job given that Britain is leading the NATO mission that is helping to free his people and given the Brits hold some of the purse strings to Muammar Gaddafi’s frozen funds. He may not be here forever. Nacua tells TIME he’s considering returning home and running for office. TIME sat down with the charge d’affairs at his embassy – so new he had no computer and the only decorations were the ones left by Gaddafi’s last ambassador – on Thursday for a Q&A. Below is a lightly edited transcript:

TIME. There has been some concern that the NTC could unravel and Libya could descend into a civil war amongst tribes, are you concerned?
Nacua: Certainly not. I believe they are capable because they have run the country now for six months in different cities in the west of Libya in the east of Libya. In Misrata, there is stability; there is security. They even have government institutions. They are very good in their behavior towards the country, towards the future of the country. So, I don’t fear any problems, that there will be a vacuum, that there will be divisions in the NTC. In one week or 10 days they will move to Tripoli. They will start to create a new transition government. They will expand the NTC and they will start to fulfill what they call their road map – how they will rebuild Libya as a democratic country.

TIME: Will you include former Gaddafi supporters in the new government?
Nacua: Yes. In the plan they would participate, especially in security and stability because many of them were police officers or in intelligence and many of them joined the revolution in their way – in individual, secret ways – and the NTC knows this well.

TIME: What about the threat of Islamist extremists?
Nacua: No, no. I think are very few what you’d call extremists. The majority of Libyans are mainstream, moderate Muslims. They are very normal, Libyan. All the leaders now in the NTC and in the transition cabinet are mixed between people who are educated in the west who know a lot about democracy in the west and the others are professional people who – these are the main steam people who now control the country.

TIME: The U.S. is seeking the extradition of the Lockerbie bomber and the U.K. is seeking Yvonne Fletcher’s killer. How are you handling these kinds of requests?
Nacua: Gaddafi murdered and he made a lot of trouble in the international community. But we leave that for the new government when everything is okay. I don’t know exactly what they’ll do but I think they will open some files, which are very necessary to open, to know who is responsible for Lockerbie, who is responsible for Fletcher, who is responsible for many other fights. I think some day they will open these files and I think it will be under the Libyan courts and Libyan lawyers.

TIME: If Gaddafi is caught alive, should he stand trial in Libya or at the International Criminal Court?
Nacua: I leave that for the NTC and the transition government. They will decide. There is discussion about priority, because Gaddafi committed many crimes inside Libya before Lockerbie or before Fletcher. So some people say we have to put him on trial in Libya first. And some people say we should, you know, we should give him to the International Criminal Court. But the final decision will be later. No one can take this decision now.

TIME: How long should NATO stay patrolling Libyan skies?
Nacua: I think until Gaddafi and his sons and his loyalists have ended their activities and their resistance. NATO will stay there maybe for a few weeks to a few months. I don’t know exactly. But they have to stay there because they went there to protect the civilians and this role is still going on.

TIME: You haven’t been back to Libya since you fled in 1978, will you go back now?
Nacua: Yes, I’m going to go back, maybe I would participate there in rebuilding a new Libya, a Libya post-Gaddafi, which we want to be democratic country. We hope we can achieve some progress and we give a new face to the Libyan, which will be different from Gaddafi. Given my age, it may be difficult but I will do my best to give to my country what I can, writing, lecturing, maybe participating in writing the constitution.

TIME: Did you ever imagine you’d be sitting here?
Nacua: No. I dreamed of Gaddafi’s fall down but we don’t see it close, we saw it a bit far away. But when the uprising in Tunisia succeeded and the uprising in Egypt succeeded, I wrote articles on the internet: Where is Libya going now after what happened in Tunisia and Egypt with Libya in between these two countries? So, I expected that the uprising would start but I still wasn’t confident. But, alhamdulillah, the uprising succeeded in Egypt, that was very helpful. Because if President Mubarak was in Egypt, they would never give us any chance. He would’ve stood by Gaddafi.

TIME: Could Libya inspire other countries like Syria to over throw their dictators?
Nacua: Yes, I think so. What they call the Arab Spring has spread very quickly across many countries. So we hope, you know, that Syria can also succeed in finishing this dictator.

TIME: Have you made any progress gaining access to Gaddafi’s funds?
Nacua: Every day we are talking to the foreign office. The NTC is now moving from city to city trying to put all the pressure we can on the international community to release the money. That is the priority now for the NTC and the transition government in Libya, is to get this money free so that we an use them for medicine, for humanitarian needs, for schools, to rebuild the homes that were destroyed through this war.