KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan officials have stripped Libya's ambassador of his title and evicted him from the embassy, saying he was an obstacle to new relations with post-Moammar Gadhafi Libya, the foreign minister said Friday.
The Libyan diplomat had to be evicted in order to accommodate the arrival in Uganda of a new representative, said Uganda's foreign affairs minister Okello Oryem. But the former ambassador can remain in the country, Oryem said.
"He's no longer the Libyan ambassador in Uganda. He can no longer continue to enjoy the status of an ambassador," Oryem told The Associated Press. He denied accusations that the diplomat had been harassed and said that he was given police protection.
Relations between Uganda and Libya prospered during the long reign of Gadhafi, whose oil money flowed into Uganda through the telecommunications and travel sectors. He was also popular among Uganda's Muslims, to whom he donated an elegant mosque that remains one of the tallest structures in Kampala, the capital.
Gadhafi's death last October put Ugandan diplomats in an uncomfortable situation: What to do with an envoy who did not want to go home and was eager to continue occupying his former office. The diplomat also kept the official residence, Oryem said, leaving no place for the new envoy when he arrived in Kampala weeks ago.
The evicted envoy has expressed concerns that he could be arrested once he returned home, and Ugandan officials say the government may negotiate his transfer to a third country. Oryem said the diplomat had been stripped of his security and was now a private man.
"I don't know if he's willing to go home, but he's welcome to stay in Uganda for as long as he wishes," Oryem said of the former ambassador. "We cannot press him to go to Libya."
The decision to evict the diplomat was reached after Ugandan and Libyan officials attending a recent African Union summit in Ethiopia decided to formalize relations that had gone cold after Gadhafi's death. The envoy's refusal to leave had complicated Uganda's plans to reopen its mission in Libya, with Ugandan diplomats normally accredited to Tripoli still holding out in neighboring Tunisia.
Libya has at least $300 million in Ugandan assets that have since been unfrozen. The Ugandan government is in the process of handing over the properties, which include one of the oldest banks in Uganda.