Sarkozy heads to Libya day after medics' release

25th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

TRIPOLI, July 25, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy was headed on Wednesday for talks with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in a signal of normalised ties between Europe and Tripoli, a day after the release of six foreign medics.

TRIPOLI, July 25, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy was headed on Wednesday for talks with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in a signal of normalised ties between Europe and Tripoli, a day after the release of six foreign medics.

Sarkozy announced he would make the "political trip" to Tripoli after French efforts contributed to the release of the medics, held in Libya since 1999, whose death sentence for infecting children with the AIDS virus was commuted last week.

The French leader was to be accompanied by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux.

Kadhafi also thanked the Qatari emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, for helping to mediate the deal, in a telephone call on Tuesday night, Libya's state-run JANA news agency reported, without elaborating.

Observers saw Sarkozy's determination to see the medics released as evidence he wants to boost ties with Libya. His wife, Cecilia, flew to Tripoli to help clinch a deal, which was made a pre-condition to the visit.

Analysts believe the oil- and gas-rich north African country could become a key trading partner for France.

"Obviously I hope that we will sign cooperation accords with Libya," Sarkozy told a press conference hours after the medics' release on Tuesday. "I do not see why France would be the only country not to sign this kind of accord."

On Wednesday, presidential spokesman David Martinon told French television: "What we are going to talk about is wide-ranging cooperation, in all fields.

"We can do a lot more and a lot better with Libya, and that is why the head of state is travelling there."

According to a Libyan government official, new deals could cover the areas of security, energy, education, immigration, health and scientific research.

Sarkozy, due to arrive at 6:30 pm (1530 GMT), was also expected to defend his call for the creation of a new Mediterranean union, and to enlist further help from Kadhafi in stemming illegal migration towards southern Europe.

"Libya through its geographic location is necessarily a strategic player," his spokesman said.

"It is a partner from the southern Mediterranean, with 4,000 kilometres (2,480 miles) of land borders, 2,000 kilometres of maritime borders. The terrorism question can only be dealt with with Libya's help.

"All migration questions must be handled with Libya. It is a transit point for all the clandestine immigration networks from sub-Saharan Africa," Martinon added.

Franco-Libyan relations have been steadily improving since a 2004 accord on a Libyan compensation deal for the victims of a French DC-10 airliner bombing over Niger, which killed 170 people, including 54 French, in 1989.

The upturn paved the way for a visit by Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac in November 2004. The two countries resumed defence cooperation in February 2005 and struck an accord on civilian nuclear research in March 2006.

However, the nuclear question would not be on the agenda in the current talks, Martinon said.

"For the time being, there is no question of us discussing nuclear cooperation. I am not saying the issue will not be raised, but nothing has been prepared on the subject."

French aerospace manufacturer Dassault has also struck an agreement to service 12 French-bought Mirage F1 jets -- although it denies persistent rumours of negotiations on a Libyan purchase of its Rafale fighter.

French exports to the country jumped 43.4 percent in 2006 to reach 433.6 million euros (600 million dollars) -- although it imported 1.9 billion euros worth of goods from Libya over the same period, almost all oil.

With the medics freed, "we can expect Mr Sarkozy to promote, like elsewhere in the region, the realistic interests of French companies," said Francois Burgat, a Libya specialist from the IRENAM research institute.

But for Burgat, Paris remains cautious towards Libya's Africa policy, in particular its role in the Darfur conflict in Sudan and its repercussions in neighbouring Chad.

On Thursday and Friday, Sarkozy heads to the former French colonies of Senegal and Gabon, two countries described by Paris as "extremely privileged French partners on the African continent" and where France continues to operate military bases.


Copyright: AFP

Subject: French news

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