Gaddafi issues death threat to 'despicable spies'

PATRICK COCKBURN

Jerusalem

In the wake of clashes between Libyan security forces and Islamic fundamentalists that have left at least five people dead, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has warned Libyans who work for foreign intelligence services that they will be hunted down and killed.

Fighting erupted in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, a centre of Islamic militancy, last week after a policeman shot dead a taxi driver in an argument.

Travellers arriving in Egypt say there is tight security on Libya's roads and that many foreign workers were being expelled.

The Libyan leader gave this warning on Saturday in a speech commemorating the crushing of an attempted uprising by two tribes last year. Colonel Gaddafi said: "As from today, no traitor, no spy, no agent, no coward, no weakling and no despicable person can hope to live among us. We will corner him as we have cornered the traitors here and we will trample them underfoot."

He is also making good his threat earlier in the year to expel 30,000 Palestinians who work in Libya, so as to underline that the Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation has not solved the Palestinian problem. Hundreds of Palestinians have arrived at Al-Saloum checkpoint on the Libyan-Egyptian border over the past week and are being ferried to the autonomous areas of Gaza and Jericho.

Lebanon has suspended all commercial traffic with Libya in order to stem the flow of deported Palestinians. Michel Murr, the Interior Minister, announced the suspension late on Friday after about 350 Palestinians arrived from Libya with Lebanese travel documents issued to refugees.

On 1 September, Colonel Gaddafi called on all Arab countries to expel Palestinian workers in a show of opposition to the Oslo accord. His motive appears to be two-fold - to show that the accord has not made it easier for Palestinian refugees to go home and to increase economic pressure on Gaza, which cannot absorb the deportees.

Earlier in the year, he said Arab states should make Palestinians ''camp out in the wilderness'' to dramatise their plight.

Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, branded Colonel Gaddafi's call a "deliberate provocation" and an attack on the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian Islamic organisation Hamas, which opposes the Oslo agreement, called the expulsions ''unjustified'' and ''erroneous''. In a statement from Beirut, the group said: "The Palestinians must benefit from a dignified treatment in Arab and Muslim countries.''

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