Valetta, Malta — Reports of recent military mutinies against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi have been closely followed by Libya's neighbors. Accounts from travelers and diplomats recently in Libya differ on details, yet all agree that a major Libyan Army unit revolted in the Tobruk area between Aug. 8 and 18, but was subdued by loyal troops and air units after suffering as many as 100 casualties.
On June 30, Malta abruptly closed down Colonel Qaddafi's growingly strident radio propaganda broadcasts beamed from here and closed two Libyan newspapers published in Malta.
Prime Minister Dominic Mintoff's Arab-oriented Labor Party government thus joins with Egypt, Tunisia, and other neighbors of Colonel Qaddafi in opposing his sometimes belligerent policies. Malta's earlier "friendly" arrangements, made with Libya after Britain closed its military bases and ended its economic support here in March 1979, have dissolved in a bitter dispute with Qaddafi over offshore oil-drilling rights. Colonel Qaddafi's "hit squads," which murdered civilian opponets in Rome, London, and Athens last spring, were only one outward sign that trouble was brewing in Libya's civil service, as well as in its over-equipped, undertrained military forces of about 35,000.
Diplomats here recall that US and British intelligence forestalled a moroccan-financed attempt by British and American mercenaries to overthrow Qaddafi in 1971. The operation was code named the "Hilton Assignmetn" and described in a book of that title by British author Patrick Seale.
"I bet Washington and London regret that they interfered with that operation now," a high Italian military staff officer told this reporter in Naples. Italian security authorities say they believe Libyan funds have helped to bankroll neofascist terrorists like those suspected of the Bologna railway station bombing, which killed 80 people Aug. 3.
"Qaddafi's aim," speculated this Italian officer, "seems to be to destabilize Italy, to punish it for cooperating with NATO and the Americans, or for not being militant enough about Arab rights in the Palestine question."
Italian and NATO military analysts carefully watch Libya, in part because of the huge depots of tanks and other Soviet war materiel stockpiled in the Tobruk area. This military hardware far exceeds anything the Libyan forces could possibly ever use
These analysts add that although up to 4,000 Soviet military personnel and some North Korean pilots are in Libya, ostensibly for training purposes, their presence has not affected the growing ferment in the Libyan armed forces one way or another.
An early sign of the summer troubles occurred in July when a Libyan Air Force pilot was killed when his MIG-23 fighter crashed in southern Italy.
Italian and US analysts have concluded the pilot was trying to defect. The aircraft, which was returned to Libya, carried to reconnaissance cameras or ammunition.
It apparently ran out of fuel after the pilot was seen circling, looking for a place to land. He had not responded to radio contacts from the nearest Italian Air Force base.