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The BBC's Frank Gardner
"Government officials say the UN sanctions were a big mistake"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Libya: From pariah to participant
A busy souk in Tripoli
A busy souk in Tripoli
By Frank Gardner in Tripoli

Libya is still recovering from seven years of UN sanctions, imposed after they intially refused to hand over the two Libyan suspects accused of the Lockerbie bombing.

Twelve years on, Libya is at a crossroads. While many Libyans blame the West for the sanctions, their country is welcoming western businessmen once again.

Back on the world map


Lockerbie bombing suspects will now stand trial

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Libya's relations with the West were marked by mutual hostility, accusations of Libyan terrorism, and a US air raid on Libyan cities.

Since the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi let two Libyan men stand trial for the Lockerbie bombing, a seven-year UN ban on flights has been suspended.

Libya appears to be back on the world map.

Oilmen, tourists and diplomats are queuing up to come here.

As Libya emerges from years of isolation, government officials like Captain Fathi Shatti, the director of Tripoli airport, maintain that UN sanctions were always unjustified.


We were 100% innocent. For years and years we've been saying that, and all us Libyans, whether we are official or normal people, we believe that we are innocent

Captain Fathi Shatti, director of Tripoli airport
"We were 100% innocent," he says.

"For years and years we've been saying that, and all us Libyans, whether we are official or normal people, we believe that we are innocent."

"The embargo was imposed on us for no reason whatsoever, and I'm sure the day will come where we prove that we are innocent".

In the streets and markets of the Libyan capital Tripoli, news is strictly controlled.

No one here is likely to challenge Colonel Gaddafi's word, that Libya had nothing to do with the Lockerbie bombing.

Ordinary Libyans are a proud and patriotic people.

Salem: Sanctions should not have been imposed until guilt proven
Salem: Sanctions should not have been imposed until guilt proven

After centuries of being colonised, they believe the UN sanctions were just another way for the West to dominate their country.

Mohammed Salem had strong opinions, even with no one from the government around to hear him.

"The Libyans are definitely upset because they should not have imposed the sanctions until they make sure that they are actually guilty."

"The suspect is considered innocent until he is proven guilty."

The world may have to wait at least a year to find that out.

Our contracts with the state oil company have always been honoured. It's been a very pleasant experience for us

Mike Buck, spokesman for British firm, Lasmo

In the meantime, Libya is forging ahead with rebuilding its relations with the West.

Britain reopened its embassy in Tripoli last year, after a break of 15 years.

Libya today is a country that Britain and the rest of Europe believe they can do business with.

The British oil firm Lasmo is one of the many multinationals queuing up for contracts.

The head of its Libyan operation, Mike Buck, says that relations with the Libyan Government were always cordial, despite problems between the two governments.

"The British people that work here for us, through some difficult times over the last 10 years, have always been treated with courtesy and respect.

"Our contracts with the state oil company have always been honoured.

"It's been a very pleasant experience for us."

Gaddafi woos Africa

Muammar Gaddafi:  An eye on Africa
Muammar Gaddafi: An eye on Africa

Libya can still be a strange and confusing place for the visitor.

Tribal bagpipes mark the start of one of Tripoli's numerous pan-African conferences.

In recent years, Colonel Gaddafi has increasingly ignored the Arab world, and set his sights instead on unifying Africa.

Delegates at these conferences take turns at criticising what they call the greedy practices of western companies in Africa.

Slogans adorn Tripoli with messages like "Blacks will dominate the world" and "Freedom for a nation eating from behind its borders."

Yet Libyan technocrats, like Dr Bashir Zenbil, the director of Libya's Foreign Investment Board, know their country needs western investment.

Libyans are keen to rejoin the international community
Libyans are keen to rejoin the international community
"We are encouraging the foreign capital to invest in Libya in order to have a very good relation between the peoples in both countries, and also to diversify our Libyan income and also transferring technology and know-how and also to open or to create new jobs for the Libyans."

Libya is at a curious stage of transition.

On the surface, it appears to still cling to its isolationist slogans and policies.

Yet the suspension of UN sanctions has ushered in a new era of economic realism.

Whichever way the Lockerbie trial goes, Libyans are keen to rejoin the world and put their outlaw image of the past behind them.

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See also:

01 May 00 | Middle East
Libya attacks US ban decision
25 Apr 00 | Africa
British relations warm with Libya
12 Jul 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
On the trail of Colonel Gaddafi
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