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Col Mu'amar al-Qadhafi

Update No: 037 - (04/12/06)

Libya a Strategic Partner in Controlling Illegal Immigration, while Italian-Libyan Relations Strengthen
Apart from the trial of the Bulgarian nurses over an alleged plot to infect babies with HIV at a Benghazi hospital, for which a verdict - barring further delays - is expected on December 19, one of the remaining issues of contention between Europe and Libya is illegal immigration. As for the trial, Bulgarian Interior Minister Rumen Petkov met with Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi in Tripoli on Wednesday (November 22nd) and visited five Bulgarian nurses in prison. Petkov brought medicine and books to the nurses and briefed them on Sofia's efforts to resolve the long-standing case. 

In November, the seeds of a more programmatic approach to the problem were sown, as the subject of illegal migration was at the centre of a Euro-African conference in Tripoli between 37 European countries, the 53 countries of the African Union and Morocco. The conference was organized by Italy, one of the main destinations for illegal migrants from Africa, and Libya. At the meeting in Bab-el-Aziziya (a fortress sometimes known as the official residence of the Libyan leader), Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi delivered a speech in which he presented migration as an important and necessary phenomenon, thanks to which the Europe and the United States were born, while also making due 'dependency theory' criticisms of the role of European colonialism. However, the ultimate theme of the speech, which suggests his country's willingness to work with Europe to reduce its impact, is that immigration is a phenomenon that should be controlled, even if it is not possible to stop it altogether. This is a rather different message to those attributed to Qadhafi, to the effect that through migration Europe will become 'Africanized' and that migration was some sort of weapon to exact revenge on Europe. While the summit did not break new ground in the approach to immigration, which all countries agree is a resource and that illegal immigration is the problem to be confronted, the meeting highlighted a new political process between North and South. 

Indeed, the summit featured a reversal of most Euro-African summits, as in this case it is Europe that is asking for Africa's help. Italian minister Amato, also gave a statement, which highlights the growing strategic importance of Libya to Europe, beyond its oil and gas resources: "Libya no longer supports terrorism and fights fundamentalism at the ideological and cultural level." If France and Spain are relying on Morocco as a strategic partner in the southern Mediterranean, Italy is starting to promote Libya as a more credible one, as far as immigration controls are concerned. The EU commissioner, Franco Frattini, has proposed to manage legal immigration quotas established by member states as well as the creation of a Euro-African Fund made up by funds from European countries as well as private ones. While, the form and scope of such a fund, already discussed last summer at a previous meeting in Rabat, have not been defined yet, African countries have been very receptive. However, European Commissioner for Development Louis Michel said the Europeans were not yet ready to contribute to such a fund. He proposed a 40m-euro fund to manage African migration to Europe. He said the fund could be used to lower the cost for Africans sending money earned in Europe back home and set up a network of migration offices to match demand for jobs, with supply of workers. Both Libya and Morocco have called on the EU to ensure that tighter border controls are complemented by development projects in African states. Libya has agreed to cooperate further in curbing illegal immigration on two conditions. The first is that the task of patrolling the Libyan coast must be made in conjunction with a control of the desert borders to be paid by the EU. The second is that the sea patrol, so called Frontex, be assigned to Italy and Malta with direct collaboration from Libya. Italy has agreed to supply some patrol vehicles and appropriate training according to an existing model financed by the EU "Across Sahara." 

The meeting in Tripoli also served as an opportunity to cement Italian - Libyan relations further, after the notorious problems caused last march when a minister, Calderoli, from the Berlusconi government wore a shirt emblazoned with the infamous Muhammad caricatures that served as the alleged spark to a riot in Benghazi. The Italian foreign affairs minister D'Alema noted that there may be some merit in Libya's request for a new highway from the Tunisian to the Egyptian border as part of a series of reparations from its colonial rule in the first half of the 20th century. The Libyan minister of foreign affairs, Abdul-Rahman Shalgham said that 2007 will mark an historic turn for Italian-Libyan relations. Italian ministers met Col. Qadhafi separately on the margins of the EU conference with the scope to increase ties at the cultural, scientific as well as economic level. One of the main themes of the new cooperation is how to alter Libya's economy, one that relies on oil almost exclusively for survival, to one that is also able to find new opportunities. The dilemma is that Libya has the capital but not the expertise or know-how. It is expected that the closer ties between Libya and Italy will deal with such issues, with at least the same intensity as the control of illegal migration. 

Taiwan's Chinese Petroleum Corp (CPC) will be among the bidders for an oil exploration project in Libya at the next round, having decided to move ahead with investment in Libya. CPC has until December 3 to submit its bid to participate in Libya's forthcoming third international licensing round. CPC had already looked at the possibility of investing in Libya in 2004, but less than expected results in oil exploration projects off Taiwan's coast, in the US, Venezuela, Ecuador, Australia and Chad have produced few results. The company hopes that Libya will yield better results. If there were any fears that possible investment from a Taiwanese company may damage relations with Beijing, it should be noted that CPC already works participates in a joint-venture with Beijing-based China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) in waters between Taiwan and China, the first state-owned oil producers from the two political rivals to participate in a joint venture. They have an agreement to drill three exploration wells to find new sources of oil and gas as the cost of energy imports soars.  

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