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Dispute With Switzerland

Libya scores own goal

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN  Feb 28, 2010

In yet another dramatic act, Libya decreed last week to not admit or issue visas to any of the Schengen member states in Europe, following a long-festering dispute with Switzerland, which is part of the Schengen group, although not a member of the European Union. However, some airline sources in Europe known to this correspondent have told a different story - that refusal of entry was within the normal range and not covering all and sundry arriving in Tripoli, but that the situation was being monitored and the announcement had caused considerable concerns among airlines flying to Libya.

Switzerland has issued travel restrictions against the Gadaffi family and some of their key supporters over a row about the – Switzerland says illegal – detention of two Swiss citizens, who were according to conventional wisdom arrested in a knee-jerk reaction to a well-publicized criminal investigation against one of the Gadaffi sons in Switzerland dating back to a visit of the couple in 2008, where they were said to have assaulted two hotel staff.

It is understood that one of the accused Swiss was earlier in the week permitted to leave the country, while a second Swiss man, convicted in absentia and who has since sheltered in the Swiss Embassy building in Tripoli, has turned himself in for a 4-month sentence, although it is understood that he is seeking a pardon and early release.

For a country, which had some time ago declared itself open to tourism and invited investors to build resorts along its Mediterranean coast, this announcement, whether ultimately implemented or just a mouthing off is like shooting itself in the foot if not both feet, as many of the potential tourists would, of course, come from EU member countries as would many potential investors.

Libya has a checkered and often clouded history, and following this irrational decision, the old casefiles of the UTA and Pan Am bombings, the bombing of a discotheque in Berlin, and other similar cases will undoubtedly be raised again to advance the inevitable backlash in the European media.

Notably, the UK was excluded from the visa restrictions, having only recently done a much-criticized deal with Libya when the Scottish authorities controversially freed the convicted Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds causing an outcry from the victims’ families. In that case, with all pending appeals withdrawn prior to the release, the conviction stands while nevertheless pictures of a jubilant homecoming and hero’s reception at the airport in Tripoli went around the world to the absolute horror of the victims’ relatives, friends, and law enforcement officials from many parts of the world.

Libya scores own goal
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