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Brussels proposes first ever framework for EU-Libya ties

Agence France-Presse | 27 February 2008

Brussels proposes first ever framework for EU-Libya ties

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Commission proposed Wednesday to open negotiations on boosting EU relations with Libya, with the aim of completing a first ever framework for ties by the end of the year.

"This is a historic decision. Libya is an important player in the Mediterranean region and in Africa, and so far has no framework for relations with the EU," said External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

The commission said it would begin negotiating an agreement covering political, social, economic, commercial and cultural relations with Libya once it has received the green light from the bloc’s 27 member nations.

"I am confident that the agreement will create solid and long lasting relations between Libya and the EU," she said.

The European Union resumed ties with Libya last year after Tripoli released six foreign medics accused of spreading the virus that causes AIDS to children.

The medical personnel were jailed in 1999 after being convicted of infecting more than 400 children with HIV-tainted blood in a hospital in the northeast city of Benghazi.

They were freed last July following a trip to Libya by Ferrero-Waldner and then French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy.

To help secure their release, Ferrero-Waldner signed a memorandum of understanding with Tripoli offering to work towards improving relations.

However EU-Libya relations remain slight despite the fact that European sanctions imposed over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing were lifted in 2004.

Libya is considered a potentially strategic partner for Europe.

The EU is seeking to diversify its sources of oil and gas, and better control illegal immigrants from Africa who regularly pass through Libya on their way to Europe by sea, a particular problem for Italy and Malta.

The negotiations are aimed in part at helping Libya advance with economic and social reforms, and develop trade and economic relations, notably by establishing a free trade agreement.

"An ambitious free trade agreement would intensify cooperation between the EU and Libya on trade and economic issues and would further strengthen and deepen our relationship," said EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

"Together with our support for Libya’s bid to join the World Trade Organisation, these negotiations represent a vital first push forward in Libya’s re-integration into the world trading system," he said.

Another aim of the commission, the EU’s executive body, is to establish ties and dialogue on issues like security, development and human rights.

 source: AFP