[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Analysis: Italy woos Libya
By Benedetto Cataldi
BBC Monitoring

Italy has lobbied hard for Libya's return from isolation to international partnership - and on Monday the European Union is expected to lift its arms embargo on Tripoli.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at Mellitah gas works
Berlusconi (left) is Gaddafi's best friend in the EU
Italy has threatened to lift the embargo unilaterally if the EU does not oblige.

Italy has become Libya's closest European ally, despite the fact that a number of hangovers from the colonial period (1911-43) continue to mar relations.

One of these is Libya's demand that Italy pay compensation for colonial damage inflicted on it, particularly the deportation of Libyans.

Italy, on the other hand, says Libya has never compensated the Italian settlers who had their property confiscated and were expelled in 1970.

Mutual benefits

But Italy now says it wants to help its former colony to curb the influx of illegal immigrants landing on the tiny island of Lampedusa after transiting through Libya.

Mellitah plant, western Libya
The $5.6bn Mellitah plant will pump gas via a 540km pipeline to Sicily
And despite the bitter colonial legacy, Libya is Italy's main supplier of oil, accounting for about 25% of Italy's oil needs, while Italy is Libya's main trading partner.

On Thursday the two countries opened a huge gas pipeline - their most spectacular joint project in recent years. It was inaugurated by Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at a ceremony in Mellitah, western Libya.

It was Mr Berlusconi's third trip to Libya, after visits in February and August.

The February summit was deemed inconclusive by Milan's financial daily Il Sole, which said Italy "came away with pretty miserable pickings" because it failed to resolve the outstanding issues from the colonial period.

However, the Italian media also pointed out how, on that occasion, Mr Gaddafi had asked Mr Berlusconi to put pressure on US President George Bush to help end US sanctions against Libya.

Whether through Italy's mediation or not, this started taking shape in September, when the US announced the end of its trade embargo, a year after the UN finally lifted its own sanctions.

Expulsions

But the immigration issue topped the agenda at all this year's Italy-Libya summits.

Map of Lampedusa
The latest meeting coincided with Italy's expulsion of hundreds of illegal immigrants from Lampedusa to Libya.

Libya said it had repatriated about 1,000 Egyptians sent back from Italy.

There are plans to build immigrant reception centres in Libya to process asylum applications outside the EU - but it is still unclear how they will work.

The groundwork for Libya's rapprochement with Italy - and, ultimately, with the West - was laid by Italy's previous centre-left government in the late 1990s.

In December 1999 the then Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, played a pioneering role when he became the first Western leader in 15 years to meet Mr Gaddafi, at a time when no one in the West was keen to be seen talking with Tripoli.

'Friends for ever'

This happened a year after Italy and Libya signed a joint declaration aimed at putting the colonial past behind them.

Illegal migrants are escorted onto a plane by Italian police
Italy says fewer migrants have arrived since expulsions began
If Italy and Libya manage to finally bury the past and continue on the road of friendly relations, there could be huge mutual benefits.

Libya would continue to have in Italy a powerful international sponsor and key mediator in its dealings with the EU and the West at large, as well as retaining its main trade partner.

Italy, on the other hand, would manage to keep the migration crisis in check, get very lucrative deals for its oil companies and reassert its regional power status in the Mediterranean.

"From now onwards, our two peoples will always be on the same side, they will be friends for ever and ever," Mr Berlusconi said on his latest visit to Libya.




SEE ALSO:
Italy's 'little Senegal'
19 Apr 04 |  Africa
Libya: Tough gateway to Europe
30 Dec 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Libya
13 Jul 04 |  Country profiles


RELATED BBC LINKS:

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific