Japan to tighten ties with Libya, send ambassador

by Hisane Masaki

Staff writer

Japan will upgrade its diplomatic mission in Libya to the ambassadorial level by the end of this year to fully normalize bilateral relations, Foreign Ministry sources said Thursday.

The government will appoint an ambassador to Libya, probably in December, and increase the number of staff members at the Japanese embassy in Tripoli. At present, the diplomatic mission has only a small staff, including the charge d’affaires.

Japan recognized Libya in 1957 and opened the Tripoli embassy in 1973. But bilateral relations soured when Japan joined the United Nations-mandated economic sanctions against Libya in 1992.

The U.N. sanctions were imposed against the North African country in connection with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.

But in early April, the U.N. Security Council suspended economic and diplomatic sanctions after Tripoli served up two suspects in the bombing case.

The two Libyan suspects — former Libyan intelligence agents Abdel Basset Ali Meghrawi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah — were extradited to the Netherlands for trial under Scottish law.

“Japan has decided to upgrade its embassy in Libya to help strengthen economic as well as political relations with that country,” one ministry source said. “Many European countries have also rushed to improve their own ties with Libya since the U.N. sanctions were suspended.”

After the U.N. sanctions were suspended, Japan moved quickly to improve long-chilly relations with Libya, sending a senior Foreign Ministry official to Tripoli in early May.

Kishiro Amae, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau, became the highest-level Japanese government official to visit Libya since the U.N. sanctions were imposed.

Amae visited Tripoli to try and assuage strong dissatisfaction among Libyan officials about what they viewed as a Japanese lack of interest in developing relations between the two countries, the sources said.

Libya was deeply disgruntled that Japan complied with the U.N. sanctions much more strictly than some European countries, including France, Italy and Spain, the sources said.

In a clear sign of such European countries’ eagerness to rebuild relations with Libya, Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini visited Tripoli only a day after the U.N. sanctions were suspended.

The United States, meanwhile, has so far refused to lift its own sanctions, claiming that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continues to support terrorism and develop a chemical weapons program.

The upgrading of the Japanese diplomatic mission in Tripoli apparently reflects a growing desire among some Japanese companies for better relations with Libya, which is relatively rich in such natural resources as crude oil.

Libya’s demand for foreign plants and equipment is also expected to grow if it launches new infrastructure projects following the suspension of the U.N. sanctions.

Even before the U.N. sanctions, Japan had not provided official yen loans and grant-in-aid because the country’s per capita income was relatively high.

Japan extended some 100 million yen in technical cooperation — another type of official development assistance — before the U.N. sanctions were applied.

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