Plane sent to Libya for Swiss detainees returns empty

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An aircraft sent by the Swiss government to Libya to pick up two detained businessmen returns empty.

Geneva -- An aircraft sent by the Swiss government to Libya to pick up two Swiss businessmen held in the country for more than a year has returned empty to Switzerland, the government said Friday.

The Swiss Air Force Falcon had arrived Wednesday in the Libyan capital Tripoli after the Libyan government was quoted by the official news agency Jana as saying the businessmen would be allowed to leave.

But the Swiss government said early Friday that the plane "has returned to Switzerland from Tripoli tonight. The two Swiss businessmen are still in Tripoli."

The statement went on, "Preparations for their return to Switzerland are continuing."

Tripoli earlier in August promised to allow the two businessmen to leave the country after Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz apologised to the Libyan people for the arrest of one of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's sons, in a bid to end a year-long standoff.

Swiss authorities said Wednesday that the two men, one of whom worked for Swedish-Swiss engineering giant ABB and the other a small construction firm, had received exit visas but were still waiting for Libyan officials to finalise administrative procedures.

Kadhafi's son Hannibal and his wife were arrested in a luxury Geneva hotel in July 2008 after two of their servants, a Moroccan and a Tunisian, alleged they had been mistreated.

The Kadhafi couple was freed on bail after two days in custody, while the complaint against them was later dropped after a lawyer said the servants had received compensation.

But the incident sparked outrage from the Kadhafi family.

It led to a freeze on Swiss business, the withdrawal of Libyan assets from Swiss banks and disruption to oil deliveries. In addition, the two Swiss businessmen were prevented from leaving the North African country.

Merz's apology sparked a political storm in Switzerland, with Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf saying that "legally one can't apologise in this case," while the daily Le Temps called it a "humiliation."

The Swiss president has said there was "no other choice" and assumed responsibility for the "consequences" of his deal.

"Today I have fulfilled my mission and achieved my goals of wiping the slate clean of last year's incident and opening the Libyan market" to Swiss firms once again, Merz said earlier in August.

"It is a satisfying outcome for me."

Tripoli promised to allow the two businessmen to leave the country after Merz apologised, and media and politicians criticised the president for returning without them. He was given only a verbal pledge that they would be allowed out by 1 September.

That date is the 40th anniversary of Kadhafi's arrival in power and will be marked by lavish ceremonies, as well as amnesty for petty criminals.

AFP / Expatica

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