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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 19,131     71
GNI per capita
 US $ n/a n/a
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Libya

Update No: 054 - (30/05/08)

The Migration Card 
In recent years, Libya’s importance to the European Union has grown beyond that of energy supplier. Western (and not) oil companies continue to bid over exploration rights to take advantage of a potential wide range of untapped oil deposits, but European governments are increasingly courting Libya in an attempt to reduce the flow of illegal migrants across the Mediterranean. In June, the EU approved tougher measures against illegal migrants, including longer periods of detention and more incisive deportation procedures. Nevertheless, this has not stopped boats filled to capacity from leaving the Libyan fishing town of Zuwarah, just south of the border with Tunisia, heading toward the Italian island of Pantelleria. At least two such boats have capsized in June alone, and each had at least 100 migrants aboard. Thanks to its over 2000 km. long coastline and largely unguarded 3600 km desert border, Libya serves as the principal country for the gathering of Sub-Saharan African migrants, from Niger, Chad, Mali and other countries, seeking a passage to Europe. Therefore, Libya is also the focus of European efforts to block that migration, a policy that puts Libya in an advantageous diplomatic position, particularly as far as Italy is concerned. Barely two months in office, Italy’s prime minister Berlusconi has visited Libya in June with a bag full of bargaining chips to obtain more Libyan cooperation in controlling the flow of migrants. 
Libya can use this request as leverage to obtain further reparations from Italy, which used to be its colonial master from 1911 to 1943. Libya has already secured ‘reparations’ from oil companies based in countries with which it has had disputes in the past. American oil companies have had to pay local authorities what has literally been called ‘re-entry rights’ in order to resume their activities in Libya. The Oasis Oil group (including Continental Oil, Marathon Oil, Amerada & Hess) is believed to have paid over USD 2 billion to the Libyan government (presumably to the National Oil Company, NOC, which is undergoing an intensive modernization process) in expectation of even larger profits. Occidental is also believed to be negotiation of its‘re-entry’ fee. Companies like ENI, which had continued to operate in Libya throughout the embargo years, have been exempted from the ‘re-entry’ fees, though they are expected to make considerable investment in the Libya’s oil infrastructure through joint-venture agreements with Libyan controlled firms. Other Italian companies that have been allowed to operate in Libya without having to pay for the privilege, such as Finmeccanica, Impregilo, and others are also benefiting. This has generated an air of expectation in Libya that Italy finally settle all its outstanding ‘reparations’ through acts of friendship, which extend from the need to shed light on all records pertaining to colonial period activities – deportations - and other war crimes.  

The last government led by prime minister Prodi made considerable efforts in this direction, but there were always doubts as to the ability of the Berlusconi one to follow through, given its cast of unsavoury characters - such as the now deputy minister Calderoli, whose actions sparked intense rioting in Benghazi in March 2006 in its coalition. Other European countries are taking advantage of the change of government in Italy. France and Spain have made important progress in their bilateral relations with Tripoli. Italy has to catch up and the pressure to control migration is acting as a catalyst. One of the longstanding Italian promises to Libya has been the construction of a coastal highway from Tunisia to the Egyptian border. The Prodi government had promised to act, before collapsing. The current government will have to act on it to secure Tripoli’s cooperation in contrasting the trafficking of migrants and managing migration. Berlusconi’s visit to Libya has to achieve a definitive resolution to these matters in order to obtain Libya’s commitment to help manage the illegal migrant situation. In December 2007, the then Italian minister of the interior, Giuliano Amato, concluded an accord with Tripoli stipulating that the Libyan navy would participate in monitoring the Libyan coast in boats supplied and operated by mixed Italian and Libyan crews. These patrol units have yet to start operating, but they are seen as crucial in holding back the increasing flow of migrants from Africa toward the Italian coast. Libya has also asked that Italy participate in the financing of a radar system to control Libya’s southern border. 

A Brewing Sahel Dispute 
Meanwhile, an intensifying feud involving a Touareg tribe and the government of Mali, will add even greater urgency to the sub-Saharan migration problem. The dispute began three years ago and was largely localized, but in 2008, it has started to spread across borders, creating a significant security concern for all countries sharing the Sahara, as Malian Touareg draw support from those based in other countries of the region. The mixed Touareg nationals are continuing to focus on fighting the Malian army, attacking their convoys and using landmines. Niger is one of the countries being drawn into this conflict, as some Malian army troops and officers have been captured and taken to Niger in actions claimed by the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ). The implication, should the Touareg based tension continue to expand, is that it might lead to the demand of a separate and independent Touraeg nation. This would necessarily affect Libya as well, which has had its own Touareg revolts in the past. 

In the 1980s, when the Sahel experienced an intense drought, many Touareg went to Libya where, with Libyan support, they founded the Mouvement Populaire de Liberation de l’Azawad (MPLA). The MPLA returned to Mali in 1990 and prompted a revolt against the central government. Therefore, concerned Governments of the Sahel are growing suspicious of Tripoli’s role in the current Touareg revolt. Niger and Mali are convinced that Libyan leader Qadhafi is instigating the revolt, suggesting that he would even go as far as funding and controlling the formation of a Greater Touareg nation. There are even suggestions that Washington would benefit from a new Touareg nation, which would work with its AFRICOM military unit to help monitor terrorist movements in an area, the Sahel, which has received considerable attention in recent years for security matters. Given, Qadhafi’s apparent loss of appetite for Arab nationalism, the Sahel and southern Sahara could be an area of growing strategic interest, from where a friendly Touareg ally could give it leverage against Algeria to secure potential oil and gas reserves that are shared across their vast border. Moreover, greater control of the Sahel and movements of people within it would also raise Libya’s prestige and importance to Europe, which needs a partner in the region able to exercise greater control of migrants before they reach the Mediterranean shore.


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