Thursday, 23 October 2014

President Mandela's October 1997 visit to Libya

[What follows is the text of a Reuters news agency report from 23 October 1997:]

South African President Nelson Mandela, sternly dismissing US reservations about his mission, arrived in Libya on Wednesday for a visit described by diplomats as the most important for Muammar Gaddafi since the United Nations clamped sanctions on his nation in 1992.

Mandela, his Mozambican companion, Graca Machel, and Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo arrived at the Libyan border town of Ras Adjir by helicopter from the nearby Tunisian resort island of Djerba and drove across the frontier and 160 km (100 miles) to Tripoli. The trip was made by road because of an air embargo imposed on Libya by the United Nations.

Mandela's 50-vehicle convoy passed under a series of welcoming banners, including one that set the tone for his visit saying: "Mandela's visit to Libya is a devastating blow to America."

After a triumphant cavalcade around downtown Tripoli, Mandela, 79, was greeted by Gaddafi outside the ruined home in which the Libya leader's daughter, Hana, was brutally killed in a US air raid more than 10 years ago.

Greeting Gaddafi with a hug and a kiss on each cheek, Mandela told him: "My brother leader, my brother leader. How nice to see you."

Shortly afterwards, he told reporters he remained unimpressed by US opposition to his mission, adding:"Those who say I should not be here are without morals. I am not going to join them in their lack of morality."

Mandela said he had spent 27 years in jail rather than abandon his principles under pressure and said he felt the same way about his debt to Gaddafi and the Libyan people for their support in the struggle against apartheid.

"This man helped us at a time when we were all alone, when those who say we should not come here were helping the enemy (South Africa's white government)," Mandela said.

He reiterated South Africa's policy on the sanctions imposed by the United Nations to force Libya to hand over two suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland -- saying a way should be found to lift them.

Mandela said South Africa supported the Organisation of African unity's call for a trial in a neutral third country.

He said he would seek to promote a resolution of the stalemate between Libya and the United States and Britain at the Commonwealth summit in Edinburgh next week.

"It would be premature now to say exactly how we are going to search for a solution. (We) feel that to maintain these sanctions is to punish the ordinary people of Libya and that is why there is now great concern that the remaining sanctions must be lifted," he said.

Diplomats in Tunisia said Mandela was Gaddafi's most significant guest since the UN banned air travel to the North African state. "Colonel Gaddafi receives a regular stream of African leaders in Tripoli, but it would be fair to say that with his international stature, Mr Mandela is the most significant visitor he has received since 1992," said an African diplomat. The United States has branded Libya a terrorist state and, in line with its policy of discouraging trade or diplomatic relations, on Monday renewed its objection to Mandela's visit. "We would be disappointed if he decided to make such a trip. To give (the Libyans) any solace at a time like this would be unfortunate," said US State Department spokesman James Rubin.

Ebrahim Saley, South Africa's ambassador to Tunisia and Libya, told Reuters, however, Libya had offered Mandela's ANC consistent moral support throughout the 30-year armed struggle against white rule in South Africa, including training and financial backing that helped the party to sweep apartheid into history.

Mandela visited Libya twice between his release from jail in 1990 and his election as South Africa's first black leader in 1994, but has not been to Tripoli since becoming president.

Abdalla Abzubedi, Libya's ambassador to South Africa, told Reuters the visit would focus on regional peace-making efforts and bilateral trade. Asked whether the Lockerbie issue could be raised, he said: "President Mandela always makes a difference to any international issue - especially in Africa."

No comments:

Post a Comment