A spirit of détente appears to be permeating the long desert border that separates Egypt and Libya. To no small degree, it is related to Libya’s slow but significant rehabilitation in the eyes of the world community.
On April 5, 1999, more than 10 years after the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Libya extradited two men suspected of the attack. As a result, the United Nations suspended economic and other sanctions against Libya, which had been in place since April 1992. The UN sanctions had reportedly cost Libya over the years as much as $26.5 billion.
With the shadow of the Lockerbie sanctions removed, the Egyptian government was essentially free to advance bilateral relationship with its Western neighbor, but it was only after a Scottish court in the Netherlands earlier this year acquitted one of the Libyan suspects and convicted the other, that the Egyptian began to feel comfortable in pushing the matter forward.
On May 8 Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Ebeid arrived in Libya to take part in the seventh session of the Libya-Egypt Joint Commission, the aim of which was to discuss projects the two countries want to develop in the future, the official Libyan JANA agency reported.
Upon his arrival, Ebeid said that Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and Egyptian President Husni Mubarak would soon launch a project to link up the electrical grids between the two countries. Also on the table is a plan to lay a gas pipeline between the two countries, and a proposal by which Libya can benefit from the Toshka irrigation project in Upper Egypt.
Speaking at the Libya-Egypt Joint Commission, the secretary to the Libyan General People's Committee Mubarak Al-Chamekh said he favored the joint exploitation of resources of both countries and the promotion of cooperation within the framework of the Community of Sahelo-Sudanese States (SIN-SAD). This reflected Libya’s new African orientation.
In addition to Libya and Egypt, SIN-SAD comprises Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Tunisia.
But, the Lockerbie affair is still likely to cast a shadow over the Egyptian-Libyan relationship.
According to PANA, Libya is demanding more than four billion dollars, which was deposited in Egyptian commercial banks and seized by the Egyptian Central Bank in anticipation of the freeze on Libyan financial assets. Egypt today is willing to return the assets but has said it will do so "gradually", to avoid adverse effect on its economy, PANA reported.
The current volume of trade between Egypt and Libya is around $116 million per annum, and the two sides are aiming to increase that figure to $500 million by 2005. According to Ebeid,
the volume of trade between the two countries will grow mainly in the areas of services and utilities. — (MENA Report)
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