Kadhafi Cancels Trip to Nigeria in Diplomatic Row, COMESSA Calls for Freeing Lockerbie Convict
Libyan leader Muammar Kadhafi late Tuesday abruptly cancelled a trip to Nigeria, officials said, reportedly after he was refused permission to visit a northern state where Islamic law has been declared.
President Olusegun Obasanjo's spokesman Tunji Oseni confirmed to reporters here that Kadhafi would not be visiting Wednesday.
"He is not coming. He may nominate somebody to represent him. He is busy," Oseni said.
The president's spokesman declined to comment on the reasons for the cancellation.
But earlier a senior presidency official told AFP that the Libyan leader had cancelled his trip in a fit of pique after he was told he could not travel to the northern state of Zamfara.
Kadhafi had earlier been invited to Nigeria to give a speech Wednesday on one of his favorite themes of African unity.
In Khartoum, a source close to the Sudanese presidency said Kadhafi would Wednesday stay in the Sudanese capital, where he has been since Sunday to attend a two-day summit of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (COMESSA), a regional group he founded in 1998.
It was to be the first visit to Nigeria by Kadhafi since the Libyan authorities expelled thousands of Nigerians and other black Africans in October following racist attacks by Libyan Arabs on blacks in which many dozens died.
A senior official at the presidency who spoke on condition of anonymity to AFP said Kadhafi had been invited to give the speech.
But Obasanjo objected when he learned that the Libyan leader had planned also to visit Zamfara which has become a sensitive area in Nigeria after the state governor last year introduced strict Islamic law in the state.
Kadhafi is a Muslim and has long called for an Islamic revival across Africa.
Obasanjo, a Christian, has long tried to take a cautious stance on the issue, which is sensitive in Nigeria.
The Nigerian president was reported to have been unhappy when the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, visited Zamfara while on a tour of Nigeria last week.
The last time Kadhafi visited Nigeria was in 1998 when he met the then-dictator Sani Abacha and visited the Nigerian capital and Kano, the largest city in mainly Muslim northern Niger.
COMESSA LEADERS DEMAND THAT CONVICTED LOCKERBIE BOMBER BE FREED
Leaders from a group of African mainly-desert states ended their summit Tuesday with a joint call for the release of a Libyan convicted last month of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing.
In a resolution adopted at the end of the summit, the 16-member COMESSA, founded by Libyan Kadhafi, called for "the immediate release of Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, whose imprisonment has no judicial basis."
The countries also demanded that "the UN Security Council immediately and completely lift the embargo" on Libya, originally imposed for Tripoli's non-compliance with demands to try two defendants for the bombing.
The sanctions were suspended in April 1999 after Libya complied, but they still remain in effect.
The United States and Britain are demanding that Libya accept responsibility for the bombing and compensate the victims' families before UN sanctions are lifted.
A special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands found Megrahi guilty on January 31 of blowing up a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.
A second defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted.
In a news conference after the summit, Kadhafi denounced the court's "shameful" verdict as the result of "a political plot."
"It's a true comedy. Justice and the law have been eroded, and never again will one believe in Western justice," said Kadhafi, adding that Libya would post information about the trial on the Internet.
The maverick Libyan leader, who has made African unity one of his top priorities in recent years, was awarded the Sudanese ribbon of honor by summit host President Omar al-Beshir, who called Kadhafi "a brave son of Africa."
COMESSA, created in 1998, consisted until now of 11 countries: Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Gambia, Libya, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Sudan.
Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Somalia attended the summit as new members.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said that participants at the summit heard a report by Kadhafi on African political and security issues, notably conflicts of concern to member states and measures to resolve them.
They called on Kadhafi to "continue with his efforts to resolve those conflicts," Ismail said.
After a brief introduction speech late Monday by the regional organization's chairman, Chadian President Idriss Deby, Beshir called on COMESSA to combat desertification and poverty.
"Small countries cannot live without uniting in a community that will let them work at an equal level with the other great regions of the world," the Sudanese president said.
Also up for discussion was the crisis in Central African Republic, where the government is short of funds to pay civil servants and fuel is being tightly rationed.
Libya has offered assistance to Bangui and has said it could offer more help for the country to overcome the situation, diplomats said.
Under the economic action plan being discussed, energy-endowed countries such as Libya and Egypt could help less fortunate members, while COMESSA member countries would try to facilitate telecommunications by coordinating at the technical level – (AFP)
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