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Recent History of Libya

Qaddafi's control of Libya remained absolute, despite occasional outbreaks of civil disobedience and several rumoured military coup attempts.


Beginning in the late 1990s Libya embarked on a series of moves designed to end its estrangement from Western nations.

On Dec. 21, 1988, a Boeing 747 exploded in flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, the result of a terrorist bomb, killing all 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground. This and other acts of terrorism, including the bombing of a Berlin discotheque in 1986 and the downing of a French UTA airliner in 1989 that killed 170, turned Libya into a pariah in the eyes of the West.

In 1989, it was discovered that a West German company was selling Libya equipment for the construction of a chemical weapons plant at Rabta. These actions, as well as the widespread belief in the United States and Europe that Qaddafi's regime was responsible for terrorist activities, led to American and UN sanctions against Libya in 1992.

Two Libyan intelligence agents were indicted in the Lockerbie bombing, but Qaddafi refused to hand them over, leading to UN-approved trade and air traffic embargoes in 1992.

In 1994, Libya pulled its troops out of the Aozou Strip, a mineral-rich region of N Chad, after the World Court rejected its claim to that territory. In 1995 there were clashes between Libyan security forces and members of Islamic groups in E Libya.

The United States charged (1996) that Libya was constructing a chemical weapons plant southeast of Tripoli and said Libya would be prevented from putting it into operation.

In 1999, Libya finally surrendered the two men, who were tried in the Netherlands in 2000–2001. One was found guilty of mass murder; the other defendant was found innocent. Libya had hoped its fainthearted cooperation would lead to suspended sanctions, which had severely affected the Libyan economy.

After the lifting of sanctions in 1999, Qaddafi began transforming Libya's 'terrorist state' image. He began styling himself as an African 'peacebroker', turning his back on his Arab neighbours to take a leading role in paving the way for a future Africa-wide federation similar to the European Union.

After months of secret talks with the U.S. and Britain, Qaddafi surprised the world in Dec. 2003 by announcing he would give up the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and submit to full UN weapons inspections.

Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and agreed to pay compensation to the families of victims. That same year it repudiated weapons of mass destruction, and the following year was visited by then British prime minister Tony Blair. Tourists also began returning to the country.

Libya agreed in 2003 to a $2.7 billion settlement with the families of the victims. and that and a revised settlement for viction of the UTA bombing led the UN Security Council to lift the sanctions imposed more than a decade earlier. Subsequently (Mar., 2004), Libya acknowledged that it had produced and had stockpiles of chemical weapons.

In 2006 the US government quietly removed Libya from its list of states sponsoring terrorism. It seemed the metamorphosis was complete. For the first time in decades, Libyans are optimistic, convinced that the future is theirs.

As a result of these events, the United States lifted most sanctions and resumed diplomatic relations with Libya, although it continued to list Libya as a state sponsor of terrorism until mid-2006.

In Dec. 2006, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor working in Libya were sentenced to death after being convicted of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with AIDS.

The evidence used to convict the medical workers is considered highly specious, and many believe that Libya is attempting to deflect the blame for the 1998 outbreak of AIDS in a Libyan hospital to foreigners.

Libya has responded in good faith to legal cases brought against it in US courts for terrorist acts that predate its renunciation of violence. Claims for compensation in the Lockerbie bombing, LaBelle disco bombing, and UTA 772 bombing cases are ongoing.

The US rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in June 2006. In July 2007, Libya's Supreme Court upheld the death sentences. Days later, however, the country's High Judicial Council commuted the sentences. On the same day as the commutations, the government agreed to pay $1 million to the families of each of the 460 victims. In late 2007, Libya was elected by the General Assembly to a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2008-09 term.

Last Updated on Monday 4th August 2008