A year later, Swiss-Libyan spat continues

A year later, Swiss-Libyan spat continues

20th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

A year after the arrest of a son of Moamer Kadhafi in a luxury Geneva hotel, the Libyan leader hardens his stance against Switzerland.

Geneva -- A year after the arrest of a son of Moamer Kadhafi in a luxury Geneva hotel, attempts by the Swiss to patch things up with Tripoli have faltered as the Libyan leader hardened his stance.

Kadhafi went so far as to call in July for breaking up multilingual Switzerland, describing the country as a "global mafia".

For the director of the Study and Research Centre for the Arab and Mediterranean World, Hasni Abidi, it was a signal that Swiss diplomatic efforts to smooth tensions were not working.

Abidi believes that if not appeased, Tripoli could take further action such as shutting down Libyan-related companies, including oil refinery Tamoil, in Switzerland and closing the embassy in Bern.

Ties between the two countries have been strained since 15 July 2008 when Hannibal Kadhafi and his wife were arrested by police in Geneva after two domestic staff claimed they were abused.

The Kadhafis were eventually released and the complaint was dropped after a lawyer for their servants -- a Moroccan and a Tunisian -- said they received compensation.
Libyan protestors
But that was just the start of repercussions.

Libya briefly cancelled deliveries of oil to Switzerland in October, withdrew an estimated EUR 7 billion (EUR 5 billion) from Swiss banks, and halted all cooperation between the two countries.

Swiss companies have faced restrictions on their business in Libya and two Swiss citizens working in Tripoli were stopped from leaving the country for the past year.

Tripoli has demanded a Swiss apology for the treatment of Kadhafi's son Hannibal and his wife. It also demanded that those responsible for the arrest be punished, but local authorities have stood firm.

In April, Libya sued regional authorities in Geneva over the arrest and the case is due to be examined on 24 September.

"The police did not hesitate to use physical force and to act with brutality, despite the absence of resistance," according to documents submitted to the court.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry told AFP in a statement that it has been trying for the past year to find "a solution to the problems that weighs on bilateral relations between Switzerland and Libya."

"Bilateral discussions and contacts are continuing, despite their difficulties," it added.

At the moment, attempts to arrange a meeting between Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz and Kadhafi are "at the centre of ongoing diplomatic efforts."

However, while addressing the Group of Eight summit in July, the Libyan leader accused Switzerland of financing world terrorism, calling it a "global mafia and not a state," the state-run agency JANA reported.

Kadhafi also reportedly argued that Switzerland is made up of "an Italian community that should return to Italy", while the other French and German communities should be divided up between France and Germany.

Abidi said Kadhafi picked the episode to demonstrate that Tripoli is not to be trifled with.

He also used the platform to highlight the significance of his family, according to the academic.

"The family is the future of the regime. If something were to happen to his son, the future regime is in a difficult situation," said Abidi.

Abidi believes that Bern may have to turn to a mediator such as Qatar, or Italy, to help mend relations with Libya.

In addition, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who visited Libya in May, was not taken seriously there because she is a woman, said Abdi.

Micheline Calmy-Rey
Swiss Foreign Minister "not taken seriously"

"Switzerland has always acted as a go-between in international diplomacy," he said, but its’ handling of the spat "shows that there are also flaws in Swiss diplomacy."

AFP / Hui Min Neo / Expatica

Photo credits: Kadhafi by José Goulão; Micheline Calmy-Rey by World Economic Forum (both Flickr.com, Creative Commons license); Protests over Hannibal Kadhafi's arrest © AFP

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