Libya prepares to open its doors to business

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The Independent Online
COMPANIES INCLUDING British Aerospace are likely to benefit hugely from the official resumption of trade with Libya, after the handover of two suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people.

Since the handover on Monday of Abdel Basset Ali Mohammed al Meghrahi and Al Amin Khalifh Fhimah - who are being tried under Scottish law in the Netherlands - United Nations sanctions against Libya have been suspended, and the north African country has sent clear signals to the world that it is open for business.

The first significant contract - which according to a Libyan source is worth $16bn - will be to upgrade Libya's national airline and its airports.

According to the source, Libya will buy more than 30 airliners, chiefly the European-produced Airbus, and will hire foreign contractors to improve its airports.

In the seven years since United Nations arms and air sanctions were imposed and constraints were placed on movements of the country's financial assets, Libyan Arab Airlines has seen its fleet dwindle to only two working aircraft. These have been used internally and for flying pilgrims to Mecca.

In the past week, aircraft have flown from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to Cairo, Tunis and Rome. Alitalia and South African Airlines - whose countries were instrumental in negotiations to hand over the Lockerbie suspects - are likely to be among the first carriers outside north Africa to offer scheduled flights to Libya.

In Tripoli, there is palpable relief that Libya may be about to shed its pariah status. But there is also strong anti-American sentiment and a widespread view that there will be insufficient evidence to find the two men guilty.

On the ground, the material impact of sanctions has been minimal, since maritime traffic has continued and road links with Tunisia and Egypt were never severed.

Tomorrow in Tripoli, the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, will mark the suspension of UN sanctions and his country's return to the international stage when he addresses African historians gathered for a conference here under the aegis of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Even though sanctions against Libya were suspended last Monday, they will not be formally lifted for three months. In that time, France must decide whether it is satisfied that Libya will, as promised, punish six men found guilty in absentia by a French court of causing the mid-air explosion of a UTA flight over Niger in September 1989, killing all 170 people on board.