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Switzerland and Libya hold talks

The latest round of talks on the Libya affair have been taking place in Madrid

(imagepoint)

Swiss and Libyan officials have made progress in their discussions on the deal to repair country relations that was signed earlier this week.

The talks in the Spanish capital Madrid came as legal action against Libya over its detention of two Swiss citizens during the diplomatic spat was mooted in Switzerland.

The last of the two hostages, Swiss businessman Max Göldi, arrived back in Switzerland on Monday after almost two years in detention.

A Spanish official was reported by the Swiss news agency as saying that Switzerland and Libya had agreed their members of an international arbitration tribunal to look into the circumstances of the arrest in Geneva in 2008 of Hannibal Gaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, Moammar Gaddafi.

The arrest of Hannibal and his wife for allegedly beating their servants in a Geneva hotel triggered the diplomatic row between the two countries.

Spanish representative Javier Elorza said the tribunal process would be starting in a week’s time in Berlin. He added that the two, as yet unnamed, tribunal members would have 30 days to nominate a third member, the tribunal president. The three would have 60 days to come to a final conclusion.

The creation of a tribunal was one of the key points in the three-pronged action plan signed by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and her Libyan counterpart, Mousa Kousa in Tripoli on Sunday. The deal was overseen by Spanish and German officials.

The accord also stated that Switzerland “apologises for the illegal publication" of police mugshots of Hannibal by a Swiss newspaper last September.

It added that the Geneva cantonal government recognised its responsibility in the affair and that the people responsible would be taken to justice.

An attempt by Switzerland and Libya to set up such a tribunal last autumn ended in failure.

Positive officials

The Swiss representative at the talks, State Secretary Peter Maurer, told the Swiss news agency that the meeting had “gone well”, but did not offer any details.

The Libyan official was also positive. “The meeting went well... the name of the tribunal members will be made public next week,” he said.

This is not the first time Switzerland and Libya have concluded a deal on normalising relations. A previous one was signed last August, but caused an outcry in Switzerland when then-president Hans-Rudolf Merz apologized for the arrest of Hannibal.

The arrest resulted in retaliatory measures by Libya including shutting down Swiss businesses and withdrawing money from Swiss banks. Göldi and Hamdani were also arrested, days after Hannibal’s detention.

Legal proceedings

Earlier on Friday came the news that Switzerland was examining whether to start international legal proceedings against Libya for taking the two Swiss nationals hostage.

Calmy-Rey told the 20 Minuten Online news site that the action concerned the kidnapping of Göldi and Hamdani on September 18, 2009.

On that date they were lured outside the Swiss embassy in Tripoli for a medical check-up but disappeared and were then held separately in secret locations until November 9, she said.

She did not give any details about the precise international body to whom Bern may address the legal complaint.

The Geneva populist party, the Geneva Citizens' Movement (MCG), has already officially made a complaint to the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland and the Geneva justice authorities against Hannibal and Moammar Gaddafi for taking hostages with a ransom demand, threats and extortion.

More Geneva moves

Geneva cantonal parliamentarians were discussing on Friday evening a motion, also by the MCG, to make Hannibal a “persona non grata” in the city. No results were known by 10pm.

Meanwhile, Geneva has again said that it would not participate in any damages paid over the Hannibal photos. Switzerland has put SFr1.5 million ($1.33 million) into a German bank account to be handed over if the person responsible for the photo leak is not found.

In an interview Le Temps newspaper, Geneva head of government François Longchamp said the Swiss government had been informed about Hannibal’s arrest in summer 2008.

He said it had given the “green light” in writing and that the cabinet was trying to put the blame on Geneva over the arrest.

The foreign ministry has responded that it was only asked if the people concerned had diplomatic immunity. It had replied no, it told the Swiss news agency, and had warned of possible “political consequences”.

On Saturday Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the United Nations Human Rights Council would be a suitable body to deal with the Libyan affair.

She told Swiss radio it was a question of clarifying how one state was allowed to treat citizens of another state.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

Time Line

July 15, 2008: Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife are arrested and charged with abusing their staff. They are released on bail and leave Switzerland. The servants are later compensated and charges withdrawn.

July: Swiss nationals Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani are arrested as part of several anti-Swiss measures

January 2009: A diplomatic delegation travels to Tripoli.

May: Swiss foreign minister visits Libya.

June: Libya withdraws most assets from Swiss bank accounts.

August: The Swiss president apologises in Tripoli for the arrest.

October: A 60-day limit for normalising relations passes.

November: Swiss ministers say they will pursue visa restrictions for Libyans. On November 30 Göldi and Hamdani sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined for visa violations.

January 2010: Their terms are overturned and cut.

February 14: A Libyan newspaper reports Switzerland has drawn up a blacklist of 188 top Libyans.

February 15: Libya stops issuing visas to citizens of nations in the Schengen zone.

February 22: Göldi ordered to report to prison. Hamdani obtains an exit visa.

March 3: Libya declares a trade and economic embargo of Switzerland.

March 27: Libya lifts its visa ban on Schengen citizens after EU president Spain says the visa blacklist against 188Libyans has been scrapped.

April 13: A Geneva court backs a claim by Hannibal Gaddafi that the publication of leaked police photos infringed his privacy, but rejects his claim for SFr100,000 ($95,000) in damages.

June 10: Göldi is released from jail and moves to a Tripoli hotel.

June 12: Swiss and Spanish foreign ministers travel to Tripoli.

June 14: Göldi arrives back in Switzerland.

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