Gaddafi the jungle broker spreads his tentacles from Africa to Asia

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The Independent Online

Muammar Gaddafi, who organised and reportedly paid for the release of the hostages in the Philippines, must sometimes find it difficult to remember which "liberation" movement he has supported and which he has ignored.

Muammar Gaddafi, who organised and reportedly paid for the release of the hostages in the Philippines, must sometimes find it difficult to remember which "liberation" movement he has supported and which he has ignored.

Ten years ago, Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone - famous for his group's leg, ear, hand and lip amputations - trained in Libya alongside Charles Taylor, Liberia's gangland boss-made-President. In May, Colonel Gaddafi sent a delegation to Sierra Leone to work for the release of United Nations staff taken hostage by rebels.

Mr Sankoh's appalling Revolutionary United Front has been supported by Liberia and by Burkina Faso whose President, Blaise Compaore - whose ties with Col Gaddafi have been in evidence for years - has been accused of channelling weapons to the RUF.

Presidents Taylor and Compaore have both been charged by an international investigation with exchanging guns for diamonds that end up in the trading houses of Antwerp, Tel Aviv and New York. Libyan weapons, including shoulder-fired Sam-7 missiles, are said to be legally purchased from Libya by Burkina Faso and then sent on to Liberia, often through the jungle.

When he turned up at an African summit in Cairo last December, Col Gaddafi was working hard to convince the presidents of Sudan, Eritrea, Uganda and Congo to drop their differences and support the Sudanese President, Omar Bashir's new state of emergency in Khartoum. In front of Col Gaddafi, President Bashir and Uganda's President, Yoweri Museveni, agreed to establish diplomatic relations.

By the middle of this year, President Bashir was urging Col Gaddafi and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to persuade John Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Army to make peace with Khartoum, while Libya's leader all the time blamed the US for encouraging the southern Sudanese rebels to delay an agreement. His successes in Africa may not always be obvious, but his delight in publicity has never been in doubt.

Last April, Col Gaddafi travelled to a Togo summit in a massive convoy across Niger, Burkina Faso and Ghana. He regularly arrives at conferences escorted by long-haired maidens with automatic rifles, his special protection squad.

Col Gaddafi's support for the African National Congress in the apartheid years was a singularly shrewd policy, earning him the friendship of the former South African president Nelson Mandela, and a special visit to Tripoli this month by its minister Ronnie Kasrils to receive the two South African hostages from Jolo. Mr Kasrils spent several years in Libya as an exile during the apartheid era.

At an Organisation of African Unity conference in Algiers a year ago, Col Gaddafi was supposed to end the Ethiopian-Eritrean border war and send a peace-keeping force to the Congo. He set up his green tent on the lawns of the Sheraton Hotel in Algiers, but refused to stay inside the building because it was "a symbol of American imperialism".

In May, he was host to Chad's President, Idriss Deby, in Tripoli and President Alfa Omar Konare of Mali. He wanted greater economic co-operation between the Sahel and Saharan nations of Libya, Sudan, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Niger and the Central African Republic.

In December, he admonished the Cairo summit: "There is no time to waste over backward ideologies like border, tribal and ethnic disputes."

The "peace-maker of Africa" naturally earns tributes in his own newspapers. A columnist in Al-Zhaf al-Akhdar, whose views parallel those of the great leader, recently rhapsodised about his looks. His teeth, the writer said, were "naturally immune to stain" for when he released "a full-blown smile, the naturally white teeth discharge a radiation pregnant with sweet joy and real happiness".

Which just shows what peace-making can do for you.

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