Libya demands concessions from Switzerland in diplomatic dispute

By Eliane Engeler, AP
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Libya demands diplomatic concessions from Swiss

GENEVA — A Libyan official called on Switzerland to make concessions in the ongoing diplomatic dispute between the countries, saying Thursday that a travel ban on leader Moammar Gadhafi was a “big humiliation” to the African country.

The remarks by Libya’s acting U.N. ambassador in Geneva downplayed hopes that a compromise could be reached.

Ibrahim Aldredi said Switzerland needed to take a number of steps to resolve the diplomatic tussle, sparked by the 2008 arrest in Switzerland of Gadhafi’s son. It has now affected most of Europe as a result of retaliatory travel sanctions from Tripoli.

Aldredi demanded charges against the Geneva policemen who arrested Hannibal Gadhafi and his wife for allegedly beating up their servants. He also said the Swiss must find out who leaked mug shots of Hannibal after the arrest, and urged Switzerland to recommit to an international tribunal with the power to award compensation to the Gadhafi family.

The travel restrictions on Libya’s leader, his son and nearly 200 other senior officials and family members must also be dropped, Aldredi said, reading out about 50 names of the sanctioned individuals, including the current U.N. General Assembly president.

“This ban was taken for political reasons,” he said through a translator. “It is a big humiliation to the symbols and people of Libya.”

The Swiss government said it wasn’t the cause of the problems, and that it still sought a diplomatic agreement. “In deals with Libya, Switzerland has always fulfilled its part of the bargain,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Adrian Sollberger said.

Aldredi’s news conference was the first given by a Libyan official in Switzerland since the crisis started.

He spoke a day after Libya’s U.N. ambassador in New York, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, also blamed the Swiss for starting and worsening an unnecessary dispute in a similarly unusual event.

But Libya has been responsible for most of the reprisal measures. It has withdrawn billions from Swiss bank accounts, interrupted oil shipments to the Alpine nation, recalled some diplomats and arrested two Swiss businessmen in an action the United Nations and Amnesty International denounced as political revenge.

Most recently, Gadhafi declared jihad — or “holy war” — against Switzerland, ostensibly over a referendum late last year to ban the construction of new minarets on Swiss territory.

And its retaliatory travel ban is now affecting citizens of 25 European nations because Switzerland is part of Europe’s passport-free agreement and its blacklisted Libyans are no longer welcome in countries such as France, Germany and Italy.

Libyan authorities, however, have acquitted one of the two Swiss businessmen, allowing Rachid Hamdani to return home in February after 19 months detention. The other, Max Goeldi, an employee of engineering firm ABB Ltd., is serving a four-month prison term.

“The ball is in the Swiss court,” Aldredi said. “If Switzerland is ready to fulfill our requests and answer our questions, everything is going to be normalized.”

Geneva authorities are inquiring about the leak of Hannibal’s arrest photos, prosecutor Daniel Zappelli said recently.

Swiss authorities have been unable to guarantee arrests — as Libya has demanded — because of judicial independence and federal division of powers in the country, according to experts.

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