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Col Mu'amar al-Qadhafi

Update No: 027 - (01/02/06)

Some Human Rights Progress?
On December 25, 2005 the Libyan Supreme Court, as was anticipated through hints proffered by Seif-ul-Islam al-Qadhafi - the unofficial ambassador and 'barometer' of Libyan events - commuted the death sentences against five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian medical doctor. The group had been found guilty of infecting 426 children with the AIDS virus, but subsequent evidence suggested that conditions in the Benghazi hospital were to blame. Nevertheless, if the medical team has escaped death, legal hurdles remain and the medics are far from free. The Libyan government would formally have to assume responsibility for the HIV infections and have to admit that the hospital was responsible, which would be perceived by the children's families and many Libyans as an admission of failure. The reversal of the sentences provoked angry response from some citizens and the children's parents, who are now demanding financial compensation. Bulgaria continues to refuse to offer compensation, because it holds its nurses to be completely innocent of wrongdoing, and that such a payment would be an admission of guilt. The proposed and likely solution would come in the form of a compensation fund. Bulgaria agreed with Libya on Saturday to set up a 4.4 billion euro ($5.3 billion) fund for families of the infected children. Some Libyan officials have suggested that Libya and Bulgaria have agreed to pay 10 million (euros) for each of the 426 HIV-infected children - though it appears Bulgaria has not agreed to any specific amount yet - and 20 mothers who are also contaminated with HIV according to statements to Reuters by Driss Lagha, chairman of the Association for the Families of the HIV-Infected Children.
The conviction of the medical staff has been seen in the West as a major hindrance to fully ending Libya's diplomatic hurdles. However, Bulgaria believes that the nurses were tortured to force them to confess, and that the epidemic started in the Benghazi hospital before they began working there. Bulgaria has therefore demanded that the proposed fund be considered a humanitarian and voluntary initiative, rather than a legal or diplomatic one. Families of the victims are seeking a total of around 4.3 billion euros in what they see as compensation, a definition rejected by Bulgaria, which says the nurses are not guilty of infecting the children. Charitable organisations from the European Union, United States, Libya and Bulgaria are all taking part in the fund. Meanwhile, the case will be submitted for a retrial in around a month. The retrial could be very delicate, as in order for the court to justify the death sentence commutation, it would have to hint, if not outright blame, negligence at the clinic for the children's HIV infection, putting the blame of the government in effect. The representative, Driss Lagha, said talks on the structure and amount of the fund would resume next February 13. In January, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin told a press conference in Sofia: "Bulgaria will not participate with any resources like compensation... because the Bulgarian nurses are not guilty." He added, "Like other European countries, we will train medical workers and supply aid for the treatment of the infected children." Libyan, Bulgarian, British, US government and EU representatives met in Sofia to discuss the work of an international fund set up last week in Tripoli. 

Not perfect but progressing in Human Rights
Critics of the human rights situation in Libya have often pointed to the HIV trial of the Bulgarian nurses as evidence of Libya's poor human rights record. However, apart from the commutation of the death sentences, Human Rights Watch has recently reported that the human rights situation in Libya, while far from ideal, has been improving steadily. The organization has pointed out that the People's Courts, which sent real or perceived political opponents to prison or death without due process, were abolished in January 2005. Some political prisoners have been released, even as others have been granted new trials. More interestingly, the government appears to be diminishing the power of the Revolutionary Committees, Human Rights Watch has noted that the government says it is prosecuting at least 48 security officials on charges of torture and pursuing reforms of its penal code to minimize the death penalty. There have been periodical purges of overzealous security officials in the past (even as far back as 1988), but these occurred in situation of international diplomatic duress, when there was less interaction between Libya and the outside world. In the new Libya, that wants international investment and tourism, a purge of the security officials is likely to have far deeper and longstanding effects. Human Rights Watch cites the case of Fathi al-Jahmi, as an example of what has gone wrong in the past, as well as what could go better in the near future. Fathi al-Jahmi, 64, a former official, decided to test Libya's much advertised commitment to reform. At a People's Congress in 2002, he called for free elections, a free press and the release of political prisoners. He was promptly arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in March 2004 after international appeals on his behalf. Jahmi then described Col. Qadhafi as a dictator in interviews. He was arrested again the next day, this time the police claimed, for his own protection! 
Nonetheless, there are elements in the Libyan political system (or just outside of it) that understand the idea that true reforms must include some room for real and open criticism. Again, it is Seif ul-Islam, who leads this trend through a foundation, which has called for the release of 131 political prisoners who, it says, pose no threat to the government. So far, only six have been released, on medical grounds. Similarly, Eighty-six accused members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been granted a new trial, with a verdict expected in early February, as the case has been with the Bulgarian nurses; this trial is an important test of the government's reforms. 
Another sign that things are moving in a more liberal direction is that Seif ul-Islam al-Qadhafi, who also runs the Qadhafi Goodwill Foundation, has been granted his father's permission to establish a free radio station next March, as well as a satellite television channel that will be launched in 2007. The channel would comprise 60% Libyan ownership and 40% foreign. Libya will also resume distributing foreign publications - a practice that ended in 1992 as the UN embargo started. Through a $16 million contract, the German firm Heidelberg is to build a modern printing facility, which will issue western publications. The magazines 'Newsweek, 'Der Spiegel' and 'Le Monde" are some of the potential publications to be issued by the new press. There are even plans to publish the 'Financial Times'. 

Libya has warned that continued pressure on Iran - which has been referred to the UN Security Council - might cause oil prices to reach $100/barrel. Exploration bids for fields in the country are likely to continue apace, even if the competition has been so fierce that profit margins are low. One of the latest companies to secure a potential deal is BP. The British oil company BP has entered negotiations with Libya to explore and develop fields leading to a potential multi-billion dollar investment. BP would like to secure a large natural gas exploration and development deal, the demand for which will have been boosted by the fact that Britain's North Sea resources are almost finished, and by the apparent shortages in gas supplies from Russia following the dispute between Gazprom and Ukraine early in 2006. Observers suggest BP's agreement might be based on the one established by Royal Dutch Shell in 2005, which gave the company rights to explore five gas blocks in the Sirte Basin, partly in return for upgrading an existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant. The LNG, natural gas super-cooled to liquid so that it can be transported under pressure in ships, could be used to supply Europe. 

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Oil companies get back to business in Libya

ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and Amerada Hess have reached an agreement with Libya that will allow them to return to the North African country after a 19-year absence, the International Herald Tribune reported on January 1st.
The companies will return their former oil exploration and production interests in the Waha concession under terms similar to ones in effect when the group's contract was suspended in 1986. The three will pay US$1.3bn to National Oil, the state-run Libyan company, as the country seeks to raise its output and capitalise on rising oil prices. Marathon and ConocoPhillips will each pay US$520m, Houston-based ConocoPhillips said recently.
"Libya has been a fairly easy place for these companies to deal with, and I think they welcome the opportunity to get back and be able to operate there again," said James Halloran of National City Private client Group in Cleveland.
Libya, owner of Africa's largest oil reserves, wants to attract US$30bn in investments to increase daily oil output to 3 million barrels a day by 2015, up from 1.7m now. The United States last year lifted sanctions imposed in 1986, when Libya was accused of helping to sponsor terrorism. Since then, the African country has been unable to secure modern equipment to raise output.
The agreement also paves the way for the producers to seek additional fields in Libya, which has reserves of light oil that sells for more than some grades of crude produced in the region, Halloran said.
"Libya has been an under-explored country, so there are other things to do in Libya, and the oil companies want to be inline to expand their operations," he said.
To return to their concession, there will be an additional contribution to un-amortised investments made since 1986 of US$530m, or US$212m each to ConocoPhillips and Marathon and US$106m for Hess, the companies said. Their contributions are based on the size of their stakes in the joint venture.
ConocoPhillips and Marathon will each own about 16 per cent of the concession, while Hess has 8.2 per cent. Libya's state-controlled oil company will own the remainder of the joint venture, formerly known as Oasis Group. The companies received a 25-year extension to their oil concession that will run until 2034, according to their statement.
The concession in the Sirte Basin produces about 350,000 barrels of oil a day and will raise ConcocoPhillip's daily output by about 45,000 barrels, the company said. Re-entry to the concession in Libya will raise Marathon's output by 20 per cent, ConocoPhillip's by 4 per cent and Hess's by 9.2 per cent.
Occidental Petroleum in September said that it was shipping a cargo of Libyan crude oil to the United States for the first time in almost 20 years. The Los Angeles-based company in July gained approval from the Libyan government to resume operating its historic oil properties.
Libya, the eighth-largest producer of the 11 members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countires, ranks second in oil production in Africa after Nigeria.
Sirte is Libya's largest oil basin, accounting for about 80 per cent of proved reserves and 90 per cent of daily production, according to the US Energy Department. Libya's oil reserves stood at 39.1bn barrels at the end of 2004.
Oil futures are up 39 per cent this year after reaching a peak of US$70.85 a carrel on August 30th, the day after Hurricane Katrina hit the United States.

BP in talks with Libya over gas deal

BP has entered into negotiations with Libya over a multi-billion dollar natural gas exploration and development agreement as the former pariah state opens up more aggressively to international oil investment, The Financial Times reported on January 6th.
Industry insiders say the discussions are at an early stage and involve a liquefied natural gas project that could supply the North American or European markets. BP confirmed it was in talks with Libya but declined to discuss details. "We are continuing to look for opportunities in Libya and when we have a substantive agreement we hope to be able to announce it," the company said.
Libya's oil and gas sector was opened up for wider foreign investment after the crisis caused by the 1988 Lockerbie bombing was resolved and United Nations sanctions were lifted. US businesses were allowed to return in 2004 after Libya agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.
The BP talks follow a similar deal struck with Libya by Royal Dutch Shell, the Anglo-Dutch group, in May. Shell is exploring for gas in the Sirte Basin, where BP held assets before they were nationalised in the 1970s. Under its agreement, Shell will also revamp a liquefaction plant in Libya and sell the LNG in the US and Europe. US companies have been returning to the Libyan market where they held oil production concessions that had to be surrendered to Libya in 1986 after a US bombing campaign. Recently, ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and Amerada Hess agreed to pay Libya US$1.8bn (£1bn) to reclaim assets in Oasis Group.
In December 2005, ExxonMobil signed an agreement with Libya to begin exploring offshore for oil and gas and will soon begin to gather seismic data in the Cyrenaica Basin. Analysts said any agreement with Libya would be positive for BP, which is looking to further expand its LNG business. However, any agreement could take months to come to fruition and the Libyans are understood to be driving a hard bargain.
Frank Harris, LNG analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said: "From a BP perspective, Libya would provide additional supply to their portfolio and could go into some combination of the US, UK, Spain and possibly Italy."
BP proposes to build two terminals to receive LNG in the US and already has capacity at a terminal at Cove Point, Maryland.
However, Mr Harris said BP and others exploring in Libya would have to find enough deposits to keep an LNG plant busy. Because of the sanctions, Libya remains relatively unexplored, by international standards. Companies are pinning their hopes on significant gas finds at a time when they have few substantial prospects around the world.  

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