Gaddafi goes green in effort to rid Libya of 'rogue' reputation

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The Independent Online

Colonel Gaddafi's son has launched an ambitious eco-tourism venture in an effort to take Libya away from its past "rogue state" reputation by hauling it on to the environmental bandwagon.

The Green Mountain conservation area, on the Mediterranean coast, is the pet project of Saif al-Islam, who has no formal role in the government but has taken on the role of polishing Libya's overseas image. "I love this area. I have been dreaming about this for a long time," he told journalists amid the spectacular Greek ruins of Cyrene, nicknamed the Athens of Africa.

In many ways, Libya has its international isolation to thank for the largely unspoilt landscape. One drawback has been that its treasures of antiquity have not been properly looked after. One recent visitor to the Temple of Zeus, which in its heyday was larger than the Parthenon in Greece, was bemused to see wild horses among the ruins.

But Libya has escaped the mass tourism invasion of neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, and this blank canvas for green tourism has architects salivating as they sketch visions for high-end hotels that blend into the rocky landscape, with solar panels on the roof to make them energy self-sufficient.

Mr al-Islam, who studied architecture at Tripoli's Al-Fateh University, has more recently been studying for a doctorate at the London School of Economics. He approached Norman Foster's architecture firm with his plans for the Green Mountains three years ago, not long after Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction, the key to its international rehabilitation.

Only time will tell whether the plans, to which the climate change expert Professor Nicholas Stern has also given his backing, will translate from the drawing board to the ground.

The pilot hotels and spa will not be completed for at least three years, and rolling out the benefits, be they employment or renewable-energy technology to the wider community, will be a longer-term and more complex affair. But the very concept of the project is a vivid illustration of Libya's adaptability and offers perhaps a hint of a changing mindset.

"There's an acknowledgement that the Libyan economy has to diversify, the oil won't last for ever," said one Tripoli-based diplomat.

And that's where Gaddafi Jnr comes in. There is no mistaking he is the reformist voice of the Gaddafi regime. And most of the time, he sticks to the script. At the press conference, everyone wanted to discuss Libya's transformation, but Mr Al-Islam refused to be swayed. "Today we talk about ecology, environment and culture. No politics, maybe next time," he joked, before jumping into a 4x4 vehicle and speeding offinto the distance.