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Cablegate: Embassy Tripoli

VZCZCXRO5653
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0812 2811629
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 081629Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5354
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0846
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1175
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 0090
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0626
RUEHVT/AMEMBASSY VALLETTA PRIORITY 0457
RUEHPG/AMEMBASSY PRAGUE PRIORITY 0001
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 5901

C O N F I D E N T I A L TRIPOLI 000812

SIPDIS

STATE PLEASE PASS TO NEA/MAG; ENERGY FOR GINA ERICKSON; COMMERCE FOR NATE MASON

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/8/2019 TAGS: PGOV LY ECON EINV EPET PREL MCAP

CLASSIFIED BY: Yael Lempert, A/DCM, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, U.S. Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) On October 7, a Libyan MiG-23 fighter jet crashed during a demonstration flight at the third annual Libyan Aviation Expo (LAVEX). According to a British businessman attending the expo at Mitiga Airbase (a Libyan military facility, and former U.S. airbase), the aircraft was performing its maneuvers and then suddenly plunged to the ground. It was flying so low to the ground that the two pilots had no time to eject. The cause of the crash is unknown but, according to our contacts, the jet was "very old." Some believe it may simply have run out of fuel. After the crash, which occurred in the late morning, all other demonstration flights were cancelled.

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2.(C) The aircraft crashed into a residential area about two kilometers from observation platforms at LAVEX. The official Libyan press agency reported that three people on the ground were wounded. Highlighting the lack of credibility that governmental news sources have with normal Libyans, rumors are circulating throughout Tripoli that the government is not reporting the true casualities, and that actually, between one to twelve Libyans were killed. A military protocol official told us that the jet hit a house that was under construction, wounding three workers. A cellphone video of the crash scene posted on YouTube, shows a mass of people gathered around a mass of rubble with no apparent emergency personnel on site.

3.(C) Comment: At the expo, Libya's aging air force - which is only slowly recovering from years of unreliable maintenance and lack of spare-parts when Libya was under international sanctions - was on full display. The crash of the jet tragically highlighted the weaknesses of Libya's military airfleet. Despite Libya's obvious need to procure new planes internationally, our contacts report that many high-level foreign delegations to LAVEX, including the Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, were unable to secure meetings with senior Libyan officials, presumably since during the expo, most of the government was summoned to the southern oasis town of Sebha for festivities marking the 50th anniversary of the Free Officer Movement (reftel). This is yet another demonstration of how business in Libya is subject to the whims of its unpredictable leader. POLASCHIKJA

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