France-Libya nuclear cooperation seen

France will “soon” offer Libya a cooperation agreement to help Tripoli develop its civilian nuclear energy program, the French foreign ministry said today. “The principle of cooperation in the area of peaceful applications of nuclear energy is a given, but the content has yet to be defined. We’re still in the exploratory phase,” said ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei. “We will soon offer an agreement to the Libyans on what can be done.”

France’s ambassador to Tripoli yesterday handed Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Shalgham an official note announcing France’s readiness to cooperate with Tripoli on its nuclear power projects, officials said.

During a visit by President Jacques Chirac last November, Libyan leader Moammar Qadhaffi said his nation had renounced weapons of mass destruction and hoped that the transfer of technology would permit the oil-rich nation to develop a nuclear program for peaceful means. On that occasion Chirac — the first French head of state to visit Tripoli since Libyan independence from Italy in 1951 — vowed to forge a “true partnership” with Libya.

Mattei said today that Paris was prepared to offer a “favorable response” to Qadhaffi’s request for technology transfers “with full respect for the international commitments made by all parties.” (AFP, June 1)

Last September, even Bush formally dropped sanctions against Libya after US and British inspectors affirmed that all WMD programs had been dismantled. (CNN, Sept. 21, 2004) The EU lifted sanctions nearly simultaneously (BBC, Sept. 22, 2004). But Libya remains on the State Department “sponsors of terrorism” list, and of course hardliners like the Heritage Foundation opposed the lifting of sanctions. This latest move could re-escalate Washington’s tensions with Tripoli all over again, as well as fueling both Franco-American tensions and the ongoing paranoia about Axis of Evil affiliates and junior affiliates seeking nukes.

Meanwhile, things don’t seem to be improving too dramatically on the human rights front in Libya. On May 30, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterated its call for the immediate release of former bookseller Abdel Razak Al Mansouri, saying he is almost certainly being held because of his articles on the Internet criticising the Libyan regime. Al Mansouri is officially charged with unauthorised possession of a pistol.

“This man’s imprisonment is arbitrary even if you were to give credence to the charge brought against him,” RSF said. “How can the Libyan authorities justify holding someone secretly for more than five months on such a charge? In this type of case, the defendant should be released while awaiting trial. On the basis of the information we have, this charge just seems to be a pretext for silencing a dissident.”

A Human Rights Watch representative was able to meet with Al Mansouri on May 12, during an official visit to Libya. The representative had asked to visit him after being alerted to the case by an earlier RSF release. Al Mansouri was taken to the meeting handcuffed and blindfolded. He said he was interrogated several times about the articles he posted on the Akhbar Libya website. He is convinced he was arrested because of these articles and not because of the pistol, which was found at his home only after his arrest. He described it as an old pistol given to him by his father.

Al Mansouri said that for the past three weeks he has been held in a Department of Internal Security detention center in Tripoli. Before that he was held at a special departmental detention centre designated for combating “terrorism and zealots.”

Human Rights Watch told RSF that Al Mansouri showed no signs of physical mistreatment, that he was in relatively good spirits and that he had received clothes from his family. However, he has not been allowed any visits since his arrest and has not been able to see a lawyer.

Libyan Internal Security Head Col. Tohamy Khaled told Human Rights Watch that he was responsible for Al Mansouri’s arrest. “This man was not arrested for an article or the Internet or radio,” he said. “He was arrested because he had a gun without a licence.” When asked why Al Mansouri was being held by Internal Security instead of a facility for regular criminals, Khaled said that illegal weapons were “a job for internal security.”

The article by Al Mansouri posted on the Akhbar Libya website on Jan. 10, 2005 is available as a PDF on the Reporters Without Borders site. We also reproduce it here:

By Aburrazzaq Al-Mansouri

Posted on, January 10, 2005

Translated from Arabic

Live on TV: Last Saturday, Mr. Shukri Ghanem delivered a speech to the General People’s Congress. The speech was not just against Qaddafi’s Green Book but also challenged it to the point of blasphemy. Afterwards, Ms. Ahmed Ibrahim fiercely criticised Ghanem’s speech. Ibrahim attacked Ghanem, saying that nobody has the right to criticize the People’s Congress, let alone Ghanem who did not just criticize it but also wanted to introduce a new interpretation of the People’s Congress, which is not subject to any interpretations.

Ibrahim yelled: Only the popular leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi, has the keys to the People’s Congress. Nobody else should assume or even dream to approach these keys. Ibrahim then asked those in the room to wait until the key-holder (Gaddafi) enters the room of the hall in Sirte at his own will.

I was staying in Tobruk in front of the TV with my mother and my only brother watching what was happening in the session of the People’s Congress. We realized that what is happening in Sirte city is not new and we knew that something new will happen in the coming days.

We realized afterwards that Mr. Ghanem was labeled an infidel of the People’s Congress after that speech. We also knew he was in trouble after that live conflict with the “believers” of the People’s Congress.

We knew that if that “infidel” is not punished and comes back to his work, then there must be a new approach for the People’s Congress, different from the old one.

We learnt from history that any new approach for a one-doctrine theory, if not aborted at the early stages, will replace the old approach. Even more, it could most probably bring an end to that particular theory, even if the owner of that theory is still alive and in a proper state of mind.

So, what will happen in the coming days if the key-holder comes to the Sirte People’s Congress room on his own will? What will happen then will prove that history repeats itself or probably something different will happen and prove that our old Libyan saying: “The new always come from Libya” is right.

Abdul Rezak al-Mansouri,

Jan 10, 2005

Wow, talk about inflammatory!