- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

NICOSIA, Cyprus Massive immigration from sub-Saharan Africa and the resulting racial tensions across Libya are damaging Moammer Gadhafi's plans for a utopian superstate.

Rioting pitting Libyans against African migrant labor in several Libyan areas caused the Nigerian government to promise to repatriate several thousand of its "illegal immigrants."

A million others from African countries courted by Mr. Gadhafi are still in Libya, and their presence is causing increasing friction undermining the Libyan leader's flamboyant but vague plan for the "United States of Africa" with him at its head.

Diplomats believe that unless Mr. Gadhafi succeeds in defusing the tension, his image as a self-styled spokesman for Africa will be severely damaged.

Also at stake is Mr. Gadhafi's recent diplomatic offensive to convince European countries that Libya should rejoin the international community. Mr. Gadhafi, according to one Western diplomat, "wants to obtain a good-conduct certificate after his terrorist errors of the past."

The influx of Africans in search of employment in Libya began after Mr. Gadhafi began to move away from the minefields of the Middle East problem and international terrorism toward the concerns of the African continent.

More than a year ago, he announced that Arabs were "unworthy" of his efforts and said, "I am an African."

The statement followed the creation of Comessa, the Community of Sahel Sahara States, linking Libya with Sudan and the former French colonies of Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Central African Republic.

The only tangible result of that relatively obscure grouping was the arrival in Libya of more than a million of Comessa's citizens in search of prosperity generated by Libya's oil, which has yet to benefit its own people.

The lifting of the U.N. economic sanctions on Libya has led to speculation that the country was finally on its way toward oil-fueled prosperity. Libya has proven oil reserves of about 30 billion barrels.

But at least until now, the regime spent the bulk of oil income on expensive prestige projects, an inflated civil service of some 700,000 and considerable reserves held by foreign banks.

Recently the black immigrants some of them without visas became the target of Arab Libyans who feel their own jobs and expected prosperity are threatened.

According to diplomatic sources, clashes between Libyans and African immigrants took place in the capital, Tripoli, as well as in several other cities.

Libya's native population of 5 million has been swollen by about 1 million immigrants. Although Mr. Gadhafi's regime has become more open to the West, the Libyan strongman continues preaching his "Green Revolution" in a somewhat diluted form.

In August and September, Libya mediated and apparently paid ransom for the liberation of hostages held by Islamic rebels in the Philippines.

It was, according to one Western diplomat, "Gadhafi's ticket to redemption."

Although contacts between Libya and several European countries have increased, the U.S. State Department continues listing Libya as a state that supports terrorism.

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