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Libya Cuts Diplomatic Ties to Lebanon

September 04, 2003|From Associated Press

BEIRUT — Libya broke diplomatic relations with Lebanon on Wednesday and was closing its embassy after Lebanese accusations against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi over the disappearance of a Shiite cleric 25 years ago.

The dispute comes as the Libyan leader has been trying to repair his international image and improve relations with the West. His government recently accepted responsibility and agreed to pay compensation for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

But Libya's overtures to the West have prompted some Lebanese to complain that Kadafi is ignoring a dispute with his fellow Arabs: the case of Imam Mousa Sadr, the spiritual leader of Lebanon's Shiite Muslim community who disappeared during a visit to Libya in 1978.

Lebanese officials believe that Sadr disappeared after having an argument with Kadafi. Libya insists that Sadr and his two aides left its territory on a flight to Rome at the end of their August 1978 visit, but Italy denies that he arrived.

Lebanese National Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, both Shiites, urged Kadafi to reveal Sadr's whereabouts -- and some Lebanese papers carried personal attacks on the Libyan leader.

That "vicious campaign against us" prompted Libya to close its Beirut embassy, said Hussein Sharif, the charge d'affaires at the Office of Arab Fraternity, as the Libyan Embassy is called.

He said the four Libyan diplomats at the mission were preparing to leave Beirut today.

Libya has not had an ambassador in Lebanon since 2000, when it pulled its envoy after being angered about his exclusion from functions relating to parliament.

Sharif said it was too early to say whether the Lebanese ambassador in Libya would be asked to leave. An estimated 30,000 Lebanese work in Libya.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Jean Obeid refused to comment Wednesday.

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