- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Libya is planning a major image-building campaign to emerge from the shadow of ostracism and rejoin the international community, which for years treated it as a pariah.

The campaign will follow the pledge of multimillion-dollar payments to the families of the victims of two air crashes blamed on Libyan agents. The payments are expected to finalize the lifting of United Nations sanctions against the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, which included a ban on arms sales and air links with Libya.

But while a number of European countries are anxious to “rehabilitate Libya,” officials of the Bush administration, such as John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, have urged caution.

Unilateral U.S. sanctions imposed under President Reagan can only be removed when Libya “has proved that it has renounced terrorism, cleaned up its human rights record and renounced prohibited weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Bolton said recently.

Libyan diplomats will attempt to convince Washington of Col. Gadhafi’s new orientation, hoping to restore U.S. interest and encourage investments.

In recent years Col. Gadhafi has kept a low profile after a flamboyant career and much meddling in African and Arab affairs.

According to West European diplomats, the Libyan leader wants to “obtain a good conduct certificate after the errors of the past,” which caused Libya’s isolation for 15 years.

“Gadhafi throws dollars to buy his international rehabilitation,” headlined the French daily Le Figaro, referring to the compensation to the relatives of the 270 victims of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, as well as to the relatives of 170 passengers of a French airliner blown up over Niger a year later.

The compensation pledged by Libya could reach $10 million for each family in the Lockerbie bombing. A definitive agreement in the case of the French UTA airliner is to be signed in October. Oil is the main source of Libya’s wealth.

“Has the leopard changed his spots?” asked the London-based Middle East monthly, adding: “The much ridiculed ‘international pariah’ has taken steps to transform himself into something of an elder statesman. … No more training terrorists for obscure revolutionary causes or menacing his neighbors by backing opposition parties or demanding federation or unity.”

Col. Gadhafi, who seized power in 1969, is now the longest continuous ruler in the Arab world. According to Libyan officials, he wants to “throw Libya’s door wide open” to the outside world, including a campaign to encourage tourism.

Plans, still largely on paper, call for privatization of the tourist sector, vaunting Libya’s ancient historic sites, climate, and 1,000 miles of unspoiled beaches. Last June 13, the country’s first “tourism ministry” was formed, with an objective of attracting 3 million visitors by the year 2008.

Tourism experts say such an ambitious objective is virtually impossible. Libya has hardly any tourist infrastructure, for the time being its visa requirements discourage rather than encourage visitors, credit cards are not accepted and alcohol is banned.

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