[This is the headline over an article published in Green Left Weekly on this date in 1997. It reads as follows:]
In response to US State Department criticism of his visit to Libya on October 23, South African President Nelson Mandela has accused the US administration of racism and condemned itsarrogance to dictate where South African leaders should go.
US officials had attempted to pressure Mandela into cancelling the visit, arguing that governments should have the lowest possible diplomatic contact with the government of Libya and proclaiming that they would be disappointed by any ratcheting up of South African-Libyan relations.
Mandela said his visit fulfilled a moral commitment to Libya, which supported us during our struggle when others were working with the apartheid regime. The US government said Mandela’s response to its warnings was unfortunate.
This is just the latest attempt by the US to force South Africa to cede to US policy in relation to governments it considers troublesome. Libya, along with Cuba, Iran and Syria, is top of that list.
In 1995, a proposed deal involving the storage of Iranian oil in South Africa was scrapped under pressure from the US. Soon afterwards, concerns were raised in the US Congress about South Africa’s relations with Cuba. The following year, discussions about a possible arms deal between South Africa and Syria were cancelled after strong condemnation and threats from the US.
The US campaign against Libya began when the September 1, 1969, revolution overthrew the US puppet King Idris, refused to renew foreign base agreements and nationalised US, French and British oil interests. Since then, the US and its allies have waged a covert and overt war against Libya, including a series of CIA-orchestrated assassination attempts, provocative incursions into Libyan territorial waters and the bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986.
In 1992, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Libya which prohibit arms sales and flights to and from the country. These sanctions were ostensibly to punish Libya for so-called terrorist activities and to force it to extradite two Libyan agents accused by Britain and the US of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland, which killed 270 people.
Libya, supported by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), has proposed that the Lockerbie trial be held in a neutral country, conducted under Scottish law. In the words of Mandela, who has been mandated by the OAU to mediate between Britain and Libya on the issue: You can’t have a country like Britain, which is the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge at the same time. For a country to combine the three roles, there can be no justice there.
The British families of those killed in the Lockerbie disaster have welcomed Mandela’s call and endorsed South Africa as a suitable venue for a trial.
The South African government has further angered the US by supporting the OAU’s demand that the UN lift the sanctions against Libya.
Last month the Arab states voted to permit planes carrying Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi to land on their territory and to permit other flights for religious and humanitarian purposes.