16 February 2004
BRUSSELS – Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has invited Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to visit Belgium, the Belgian media reported on Monday.
Verhofstadt issued the invitation through his Foreign Minister Louis Michel, who arrived in Libya on Sunday on the first leg of a trip to North Africa and the Middle East.
During talks with Gaddafi in the town of Syrte on Sunday, Michel passed on Verhofstadt’s message that a visit by the Libyan leader to Belgium would, “reinforce Libya’s relations with Belgium and the European Union.”
Gaddafi plans to take up the invitation in the coming months, Michel told reporters.
Up until recently most of the developed world regarded Gaddafi as a pariah. His security services have been accused of both the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland and of the downing of a French airliner over Niger in 1989. The Libyan leader has also been a vehement critic of western powers, especially the United States, for much of the past three decades.
But last year he began trying to rebuild bridges with the west. He first agreed, albeit somewhat grudgingly, to pay compensation to the victims of the two airline bombings.
Then in December 2003, to widespread surprise, he announced that Libya was to renounce all programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
The declaration followed nine months of secret talks between Libya, the United Kingdom and the United States.
On 10 February, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi became the first European leader to visit Libya since Gaddafi made his surprise announcement.
Washington also recently made it clear that it could soon lift sanctions on Libya if Gaddafi demonstrates he is serious about his WMD pledge.
Belgium has always tried to maintain positive links with Libya. When the United States broke off formal diplomatic relations with the country, the Belgian embassy in Tripoli handled US interests there.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Belgian news