Crisis with Switzerland stills runs deep: Libyan FM

SIRTE, Imed Lamloum - Libya said on Sunday its crisis with Switzerland still runs deep and can only be resolved through international arbitration despite the end of a row with the EU over travel bans.
Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa said the lifting on Saturday of tit-for-tat visa bans by Libya and the European Union on each others' citizens made no difference to Tripoli's spat with Bern.
"No, that is another thing altogether," Kussa told AFP on the sidelines of an Arab summit in the coastal city of Sirte.

Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa arrives to attend the second day of the Arab summit in Sirte. (AFP/Joseph Eid)
Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa arrives to attend the second day of the Arab summit in Sirte. (AFP/Joseph Eid)
"We demand international arbitration" to resolve the row with Switzerland "and we will accept any outcome, positive or negative," the foreign minister added.
The Swiss foreign ministry told AFP "the crisis is not over. Switzerland continues to work jointly with the EU mediators in a constructive manner to find a diplomatic solution to the problem."
It added the "aim of Switzerland is the release and the departure from Libya of the Swiss citizen Max Goeldi," one of the two Swiss businessmen caught up in the diplomatic argument.
Libya detained and tried Goeldi and the other businessman after the brief arrest in Geneva of a son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in July 2008.
In response to the arrest of Hannibal Kadhafi when two workers complained he had mistreated them at a Geneva hotel, Tripoli halted oil deliveries to Switzerland, withdrew its funds from Swiss banks and expelled Swiss firms.
It also demanded those responsible for Hannibal's arrest be put on trial.
Goeldi is currently serving a four-month sentence in Libya for overstaying his visa, while the other businessman was acquitted of the same charges and left the country.
Switzerland hit back in response to their detention by issuing a blacklist with the names of 188 prominent Libyans, including Kadhafi and members of his family, banning them from entering the Schengen zone which groups 22 EU nations plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
Libya retaliated by banning citizens from the Schengen zone from travelling to the north African country.
On Sunday, the Swiss foreign ministry defended its travel ban, saying it was based on security needs. It was imposed after the two Swiss businessmen were "kidnapped," it said in an e-mailed reaction to AFP.
"As a result, the Federal Council (government) had decided for public and national security reasons, to ban the entry and transit of certain categories of Libyan citizens," the ministry said.
"As an associate member, Switzerland had applied the rules of Schengen in vigour, conforming to legal demands, as the European Commission had also clearly confirmed," it said.
Mussa said on Sunday that Libya and Switzerland were still trying to work out their differences.
"We have not stopped meeting," the minister said, adding he expected more talks to be held soon under the auspices of Germany and Spain.
Spain, which holds the current rotating EU presidency, has been trying to mediate an end to the crisis and announced the lifting of the Schengen-zone travel ban. Libya immediately reciprocated.
It said the EU regrets the problems caused for Libyans and was determined "to foster good relations."
The statement came as Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos was in Libya in a bid to resolve the dispute and urge Tripoli to free Goeldi.
Kussa ruled out an amnesty by Kadhafi to allow the Swiss businessman to walk free, saying his case is "a legal issue, not political."
Goeldi's lawyer, Salah Zahaf, has appealed to the supreme court to overrule the sentence.
The row also saw Kadhafi declare jihad, or holy war, against Bern in late February and call for an economic boycott of Swiss goods. On March 3, Libya said it would impose a total economic embargo on Switzerland over its ban on the building of minarets.
In Switzerland on Sunday, Hasni Abidi, the director of the Geneva-based Study and Research Centre for the Arab and Mediterranean World, told AFP Brussels' retraction and apology to Tripoli set a "very dangerous" precedent.
"Any country can now take Brussels hostage. It weakens the EU, and also isolates Switzerland," he said.
Abidi said the EU had placed its relations with Tripoli above its ties with Bern, pointing out that countries such as Italy, Malta and Spain have strong economic interests in Libya.

Sunday, March 28th 2010
Imed Lamloum

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