Libya denies pledge to free businessmen

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Deputy FM Khaled Kaim denies that Libya promised to release two Swiss businessmen by the end of August.

Geneva -- Libyan deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim denied in an interview on Sunday that authorities promised to release two Swiss businessmen held in Tripoli by the end of August.

Swiss President Hans Rudolf Merz said in August he had made a deal that included their return in efforts to resolve a 13-month dispute between the two countries.

"Maybe there has been a misunderstanding," Kaim told the newspaper NZZ am Sonntag after being asked about the claimed August release.

He suggested that the Libyan government agreed to review the case rather than release the two by the end of August.

"Our prime minister promised then that something would be undertaken within August in the case of both the Swiss men."

"His promise was kept since the attorney-general met them both before the end of the month," added Kaim.

Swiss authorities said Merz received a "written assurance" that the businessmen, who are staying in the Swiss embassy in Tripoli, would be allowed to leave Libya before the end of August.

Their swift return was presented in Switzerland as an exchange for a controversial apology Merz made to Libya on 20 August for the arrest of one of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's sons in Geneva in July 2008.

Kaim said he hoped the two businessmen would be free to travel home soon.

But he cautioned that it would take time to fully normalise relations between Switzerland and Libya "for technical, not political reasons."

Merz has come under growing domestic pressure without sign of release for the two businessmen, who were charged with immigration offences in 2008 shortly after the Geneva arrests and prevented from leaving Libya.

Their situation is viewed in Switzerland as response to the incident with Kadhafi's son. Kaim said the charges were not falsely devised.

Hannibal Kadhafi and his wife were arrested in a luxury hotel in Geneva after two of their servants alleged they had been mistreated.

The Kadhafi couple was held for two days before being freed on bail. The complaint against them was later dropped after a lawyer said the servants received compensation.

AFP / Expatica

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