Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi went from being the world’s top supporter of terrorist regimes to self-proclaimed world peacemaker, renouncing all weapons of mass destruction and worldwide terrorism. How did this come about and can the free world trust him?
In 1969, Gaddafi entered the world political scene, leading a military coup and successfully deposing Libya’s King Idris. As the new leader, Gaddafi kicked out descendants of Italian colonists out of the country, and then forced American and British troops to leave bases that they had occupied since the end of World War II. He also nationalized the country’s vast oil industry. His posturing and socialist-influenced public policies soon made him a hero to radical elements in Africa and the Middle East, and a pariah to the West.
Gaddafi the Terrorist
In the seventies and eighties, several high-profile terrorist incidents were linked to the Gaddafi regime. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan ordered an air strike against Libya, targeting one of Gaddafi’s palaces and killing his adopted baby daughter. The U.S. claimed that the air strike was in retaliation for Libyan involvement in the deadly bombing of a Berlin disco frequented by American soldiers.
In 1988, the explosion of a Pan Am jet carrying 270 people over Lockerbie, Scotland was traced to Libyan operatives. When Gaddafi refused to turn over the two suspects for trial, UN sanctions were placed on Libya.
“The New Gaddafi”
Ten years after the Pan Am tragedy, Gaddafi’s mysterious “kinder and gentler” public transformation began. In 1999, he agreed to deliver the two bombing suspects to Scotland under United Nations custody. In 2001, they went to trial. One suspect was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. The other suspect was acquitted and freed.
In 2003, Gaddafi announced that the government of Libya was willing to compensate the families of the victims of the Pan Am tragedy, and he openly renounced acts of terrorism. In a 2004 visit to European Union countries, he said, “For this is a Libya which was in the lead of the liberation movement in the third world and in Africa, now has decided to lead the peace movement all over the world.”
Also, at the time of his visit to the EU, Gaddafi invited American and European companies back to Libya to help develop and improve their gas and oil industry. He also agreed to compensate the families of victims of the Berlin disco bombing.
After a 2006 visit to Libya, representatives from Amnesty International stated that human rights and prisoner conditions have improved since their last visit 15 years earlier, but there’s still much room for improvement.
A side note: Gaddafi’s eldest son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a London School of Economics-educated painter, also presents himself as a peacemaker. His first appearance in world politics was as a negotiator for Western hostages taken by Islamic militants in the Philippines. Saif has even own his own Israel-Palestine “peace initiative”: the creation of the new state of “Isratine” where Jews and Palestinians share power equally. Saif even has an Israeli girlfriend, actress Orly Weinerman.
Is this a positive sign for real peace in the region, or a publicity stunt?
Can the elder Gaddafi or even young Gaddafi be trusted?
Only time will tell. Here’s hoping.
“Gaddafi welcomed as guest of European Union”, Fran Kelly, ABC Australia, URL: (http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2004/s1096360.htm)