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Italy Libya to settle colonial era disputes

BENGHAZI, August 30  – Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is due in Libya on Saturday to sign an accord aimed at resolving colonial era disputes that have long troubled relations between Rome and Tripoli.

Berlusconi is to meet Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in the Mediterranean city of Benghazi to seal an an agreement that he said in a newspaper interview would allow the "turning of the page on the past."

Italy and Libya, the oil-rich north African country which gained independence in 1951, have spend years negotiating a wide-ranging treaty covering compensation for colonial times.

"The friendship and cooperation agreement that we will sign on Saturday opens all avenues for the consolidation of our economic and social partnership and will increase cooperation between the two countries," Berlusconi told Libyan newspaper Oya in an interview published on Saturday.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to follow in Berlusconi’s footsteps next week, for the first visit by such a high-ranking US official to Libya since 1953.

Berlusconi’s trip to Libya — his second since June — follows agreement on the main points of a 25-year pact that will notably see the building of a coastal motorway across Libya from the Tunisian border to Egypt.

Funding for the three-billion-euro (4.65 billion dollar) road was promised by Berlusconi on a visit to Tripoli in 2004, when he headed a previous administration.

Talks have also been underway for some time on compensation that Rome would pay Tripoli over Italy’s military occupation and colonisation of Libya prior to independence in 1951.

Under the agreement, "Italy will be engaged in financing projects and infrastructure in several sectors," Berlusconi told Oya.

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"It is not possible today to specify the value of the investments which will flow from this agreement but it will exceed several billion dollars."

Libyan’s ambassador to Rome, Hafedh Gadur, told AFP the deal would be a wide-ranging accord covering illegal immigration, infrastructure projects and the fight against terrorism.

He also said Berlusconi was expected to extend Italy’s apology over the colonial era.

Berlusconi last saw Kadhafi in June when they discussed the implementation of a December 2007 accord on joint maritime patrols to curtail the flow of illegal immigrants from Africa to Europe.

Italy has been pushing for rapid implementation of the deal, as thousands continue to make the perilous voyage across the Mediterranean.

Talks have also been underway on compensation that Rome would pay over Italy’s military occupation and colonisation of Libya prior to independence.

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Earlier this month Berlusconi met Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi in Italy to discuss how to settle their outstanding disagreements, and a Libyan delegation has been in Rome for several days to negotiate the cooperation pact.

Formerly a part of the Ottoman Empire, Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911 before becoming a colony in the 1930s. The country gained its independence in 1951 after a brief period under a UN-mandated Franco-British administration.

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Berlusconi’s visit to Benghazi — which lies 1,000 kilometres (650 miles) east of Tripoli — coincides with the anniversary of the coup that brought Kadhafi to power in September 1, 1969.

Libya has welcomed a host of foreign dignitaries since Kadhafi ended years of diplomatic isolation with his 2003 announcement that Tripoli was abandoning efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Rice will be visiting shortly after an agreement with Libya to compensate US victims of Libyan attacks, and US reprisals, from the 1980s.

US-Libya relations, suspended in 1981 due to Tripoli’s alleged support of terrorism, were restored in early 2004 after Kadhafi’s weapons pronouncement.


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