By Salah Sarrar
Saturday, August 30, 2008
BENGHAZI, Libya: Libya and Italy signed an accord on
Saturday under which Italy will pay $5 billion in
compensation for colonial misdeeds during its decades-long
rule of the North African country.
"This accord opens the door to the future cooperation and
partnership between Italy and Libya," Libyan leader Muammar
Gaddafi said at the signing ceremony at a palace which was
once the headquarters of the Rome government's senior
official during the 1911-1943 colonial rule.
Italy has had difficult relations with Gaddafi since he
took power in 1969 but has backed Tripoli's recent drive to
mend fences with the West. The "friendship pact" removes a
major hurdle to an improvement in ties.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the accord
ends "40 years of misunderstanding", adding that "it is a
complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted
on Libya by Italy during the colonial era".
"In the name of the Italian people ... I feel the duty to
apologise and show our pain for what happened many years
ago and which affected many of your families," Berlusconi
said, according to a text on the government's website.
Libya says Italian troops killed thousands of Libyans and
drove thousands more from their villages and cities during
the colonial era.
"In this historic document, Italy apologises for its
killing, destruction and repression against Libyans during
the colonial rule," Gaddafi said.
Present day Italy is a friendly country, added Gaddafi, who
expelled Italian residents and confiscated their property
Gaddafi gave no details of the amount of money involved in
the deal but Berlusconi said on arrival that $200 million
per year will be invested by Italy in Libya over 25 years.
"Italian companies will set up more business in Libya,"
Berlusconi said, without giving details.
Italian officials said the amount of compensation would
total $5 billion in investments, including the construction
of a highway across Libya from the Tunisian border to
It also involves a project to clear mines dating back to
the colonial era.
Italy expects in return to win energy contracts and for the
Tripoli government to toughen security measures, including
joint maritime patrols, to stem the flow of illegal
In a goodwill gesture on Saturday, Italy returned an
ancient statue of Venus taken to Rome during colonial rule,
Libyan state media reported.
The headless "Venus of Cyrene" was carried away from the
town of Cyrene, an ancient Greek colony, by Italian troops
and put on display in Rome.
Tripoli's relations with the West have improved
dramatically since 2003 when Libya accepted responsibility
for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie,
Libya has also said it would stop pursuing nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons.
On August 14 Libya signed a deal with the United States to
settle both countries' claims for compensation for