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Gaddafi's nomadic dream.

THE AIRCRASH WHICH led to the deaths of 157 people aboard a Libyan Arab Airlines Boeing 727 just before Christmas has dealt a blow to any hopes of an improvement in Libya's relations with the West in the foreseeable future. The crash - on a flight from Benghazi - took place near the town of Souk es Sebt, about 50 kilometers from Tripoli. It was followed by three days of mourning and a state funeral attended by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's son, Sayef al Islam, and two of his closest political associates, Colonel Abu Bakr Younis and Colonel Mustafa Kharroubi.

But, according to Libyan television, "Those who lost their lives in this disaster were victims of the injustice imposed by the UN Security Council." In Tripoli, demonstrators marched to the office of the United Nations to protest against what were described as the "inhuman |UN~ measures that caused human tragedies and great damages for the Libyan people."

At issue were the UN sanctions imposed last April after Tripoli had failed to hand over two Libyans indicted in Britain and the United States with responsibility for the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland killing 270 people. Libyan television was implying that the sanctions, which among other things ban air links with Libya, had contributed to the fatal crash. This was denied, however, by Mohammed Sweidan, an official of Libyan Arab Airlines, who said the cause of the crash was unknown. "It is true we have been hurt by the sanctions because we cannot import spare parts," he said. "Still, we do not send up an aircraft unless it is 100% airworthy."

Only a month earlier the prospects for improved relations between Libya and the West had looked much brighter. Following Governor Bill Clinton's elections as president of the United States, Gaddafi's second-in-command, Colonel Abdel Salam Jalloud, told a meeting of the General People's Congress in Sirte in mid-November: "We want to turn a new page with the US administration. We want the US administration to use dialogue and a civilised way to solve problems and discuss points of view without enmity."

Libya's relations with the United States have been stymied since the mid-1980s when former president Reagan imposed economic sanctions on the grounds of the oil state's links with terrorism. These sanctions were then extended by the United Nations last April.

Jalloud told the meeting that the UN sanctions had cost Libya $2.4bn. He also said it had caused the deaths of hundreds of children and women because of shortages of medication. Jalloud claimed 1,260 people had died in road accidents since the air travel ban caused a 60% increase of car traffic on the highways.

Gaddafi added that, while Libya could no longer buy weapons to defend itself from enemies, Israel was stocking up and increasing its power. "We want the new, young US administration to understand us as we are," he urged. "We are a country which does not want to be enemies with anyone. We are against terrorism."

Shortly afterwards the General People's Congress dismissed the foreign minister, Ibrahim el Bashari, and replaced him by Omar Mustafa al Muntasser, a political veteran who is highly regarded in the West. Al Muntasser, a one-time prime minister, had formerly held the economic planning portfolio. His predecessor as foreign minister had been criticised by the GPC for "shortcomings and slowness in following up foreign issues that interest Libya and the Arab world."

In mid-December Al Muntasser travelled to Rome for two days of talks with Italian officials, the first since the UN sanctions last April. The meetings followed a newspaper report that Italy, France and Germany had informed the United States and Britain they would not support continued measures to curb Libyan oil exports. On 23 November Britain, the United States and France had issued a statement saying they were "resolved to intensify their efforts ... in order to make the |UN~ sanctions even more effective."

At the same time as Al Muntasser was in Rome, Gaddafi reiterated his commitment to greater Arab unity. But it is doubtful that many of his neighbours would have been overjoyed with his radical solution to the shortage of water in North Africa - a region which he said "has no future."

"What will our situation be in 50 years' time when our population will have increased while our water supplies will have declined?" Speaking to students in Tripoli, the Libyan leader added that North Africa was "an island of salt stranded between the desert and the sea." His answer was "a greater Arab homeland. We must get out of this bad position and go to the land which has a future. We need water now. Libya needs water, so does Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and even Mauritania."

Libyans should take advantage of the rest of the Arab homeland and move freely to where there is water - such as Chad, Sudan and Egypt. "This is our greater homeland," he said. By the same token, Gaddafi said that Libya's oil belonged to neighbouring Arab states as well.

The more level head of Al Muntasser is likely to lead to some gradual improvement in Libya's relations with the West. Apart from sanctions, pressing issues are Libya's support for military groups in Africa, including Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and its attempt to gain a profile for itself in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

But Gaddafi's higher profile at the end of the year reflects his continuing problems of political control inside his country. In November six Libyans were executed, nominally for criminal offences, the first such judicial killings for over five years. The gruesome hangings were shown on Libyan television in a special programme entitled "Security and Society".

While this was a public relations disaster, Gaddafi's other recent political initiative - although blatantly populist has helped revive his popularity. Libya's three million people were scheduled to start this year with an unexpected hard currency bonus in their bank accounts following Colonel Gaddafi's promise at the GPC to distribute half of Libya's oil wealth in cash grants to the Libyan people.

"From the beginning of the year, each family will have an account of seven to 10 thousands dollars in hard currency without offering anything in return," Gaddafi told the GPC. "This might be unusual, but it will be a fact."

Although Libya has an oil income of more than $9bn a year, it is in serious financial difficulties following years of massive spending on arms and expensive projects like Gaddafi's $20bn Great Manmade River.

Nevertheless Gaddafi promised: "The oil is supposed to belong to all Libyans. Consequently, we cannot say to someone, 'You are the son of so and so and your share is less.' That is not possible." Oil revenues would be divided into two parts, the Libyan leader said, one to finance "health, education, industry, agriculture and other things. As for the rest, there will be no salaries, no employees and no public services. No, after we spend on the factories and other necessary needs, what remains will be divided among Libyan families in cash."

He said each family will have full access to its money, "providing you do not ask to receive it all in one go. You can withdraw from it according to what is available at the bank. But even if there is a delay, it will be effectively put into your account and no one can touch it."


GDP: LD8.6bn; $30.1bn GDP per capita: $6,397 Population: 4.7m GDP growth: -2% (1992)

* Colonel Gaddafi is hamstrung by his radical associates in any attempt at rapprochement with West. Besides the ramifications of the Lockerbie affair, relations with the United States cannot be expected to improve so long as Libya retains its anachronistic commitment to the destruction of the Israeli state. Gaddafi is likely to try turning back to the Arab world for support in light of his growing isolation.

* Privatisation is the official policy, though there are few signs as yet of it being seriously implemented. Its effect will also be limited since the entire oil sector (which generates 95% of export receipts) will remain in the state hands. Another obstacle is the distinct preference of Libyan entrepreneurs for trading over manufacturing.

* Growth figures are hard to estimate since no official statistics have been released, but a small fall in oil output and prices will have led to negative growth last year. The outlook for 1993 is better, but much will depend on whether sanctions are tightened.

Loophole in the air

AGAPING HOLE in UN sanctions against Colonel Gaddafi means that European firms are quite legally operating aircraft in Libya and recruiting engineers to keep them flying - although their activities could soon be curbed.

One of the companies involved is Zurich-based Avisto Ltd, which owns two commuter aircraft, a Dutch-built Fokker F-28 and a British-built Short SD360-300. Both are on lease to Libya's state-owned Sirte Oil Company.

The SD360-300, registration HB-AAM, arrived in Libya in September 1990. The F-28, registration HB-AAS, has been there since mid-1986. At that time, it was owned by another Swiss firm, Aviona Leasing Ltd, which is a 100% subsidiary of Zurich-based Zimex Aviation.

Franz Fassbind, the owner and chief executive of Avisto, once worked for Zimex, and in the late 1980s the two firms had a close business relationship involving contracts in Libya.

Avisto has been seeking engineers to help maintain its two aircraft in Libya. A recent advertisement in the London weekly Flight International said that the firm had "immediate vacancies" relating to an operation "in North Africa within the oil industry".

In a telephone interview, Franz Fassbind confirmed that Libya was the county to which the engineers were destined. He was keen to point out that his firm's relationship with Tripoli did not breach UN sanctions, and that Avisto was not the only company operating foreign-registered aircraft in Libya.

The sanctions, imposed by the Security Council last April in an effort to persuade Colonel Gaddafi to hand over for trial two Libyans suspected of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing, ban flights to and from Libya, prohibit the supply of aircraft or components to Libya and ban "the provision of engineering and maintenance servicing of Libyan aircraft or aircraft components".

Since both of Avisto's aircraft are Swiss-owned and registered, they can be maintained quite legally within Libya by foreign firms. Neither, in the words of the UN resolution, is a "Libyan aircraft".

The same applies to aircraft from two other companies which are operating in Libya's oilfields. The Maltese airline Medavia (which is part-owned by the Libyan government) is flying Spanish-made Casa 212 aircraft there, while the Netherlands-based leasing firm Schreiner is operating a Canadian-built De Havilland Dash-8.

Some Western officials are displeased at this loophole. "Libya's failure to comply with the Security Council's demand that he hand over the alleged bombers has prompted a review of the sanctions to establish how they might be tightened", said one US official.

Western frustration at Colonel Gaddafi was underlined in late November, when Britain, France and the United States issued a joint statement condemning Libya's intransigence and declaring that they were "determined to intensify their efforts to make the sanctions yet more effective".
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi
Author:Lycett, Andrew
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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