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Libya tightens the screws on Switzerland

Swiss aircraft will be missing from Tripoli airport until further notice

Swiss International Air Lines has lost its last remaining flight to Tripoli in what seems to be the latest twist in a diplomatic row between Libya and Bern.

Libyan civil aviation authorities informed the airline at the beginning of last week that the flights were being stopped "for technical reasons associated with a project at Tripoli airport", said spokesman Jean-Claude Donzel, confirming newspaper reports on Tuesday.

Relations between the two countries have been strained since July over the brief detention in Geneva of one of the sons of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

Donzel told French-language Swiss radio that a flight scheduled for last Sunday had been cancelled and no reservations were being accepted for future flights.

"As far as we know, we are the only company affected, which means that we can transfer passengers who have reserved with us to other companies," Donzel said.

"Of course we are in contact with the Swiss authorities, the foreign ministry and the Federal Office of Civil Aviation. It's up to them to interpret what the Libyan authorities have said."

Swiss had three weekly flights to Tripoli until mid-July when the Libyan authorities reduced them to one, also citing "technical reasons".

In October the Libyan airline, Afriqiyah Airways, cut flights to Switzerland from three to one a week. No Swiss airport is currently listed as a destination on the airline's website.

There has been no comment from the Swiss foreign ministry.

Apology demanded

The row between the two countries erupted after Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife were questioned by Geneva police on July 15 over accusations of serious mistreatment by two of their servants.

Libya responded by taking a number of measures against Swiss firms and Swiss nationals. It threatened to withdraw all its deposits from Swiss banks and disrupt oil supplies to the country.

Charges against the couple were dropped after the servants withdrew their complaint, having reached a financial agreement with Hannibal. However Libya has continued to demand that Switzerland apologise over the incident for the "abuse of Libyan diplomats and business people by the Geneva police".

Negotiatons

The Swiss foreign ministry has been in talks with Libya since the row broke out. While seeking to resolve the conflict by negotiation, it has stressed that Switzerland is governed by the rule of law and must act within legal norms.

In October relations appeared to be on the mend after the Libyan government sent a note to the Swiss ambassador in Tripoli denying that it intended to withdraw its deposits and halt oil supplies.

The ambassador, Daniel von Muralt, said then that he detected a desire on both sides to put an end to the matter.

However, last month Swiss president Pascal Couchepin described the on-going dispute with Libya as "one of Switzerland's toughest challenges abroad".

Newspaper reports say that Libya is now demanding not only that Switzerland apologise, but also that it should donate SFr300,000 ($274,000) to Unicef in reparation.

swissinfo with agencies

Libya-Switzerland chronology

July 15: Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife Aline are arrested at the President Wilson Hotel in Geneva after police receive reports that they have mistreated two servants, which they deny.

July 17: After two nights in detention, the couple are charged with inflicting physical injuries and using threats and force against the servants. They are released on bail and leave Switzerland.

July 19: Two Swiss nationals are arrested in Libya. Swiss businesses are forced to close their offices and the number of weekly Swiss flights to Tripoli is cut from three to one.

July 23: Libya threatens to stop crude oil deliveries to Switzerland. Bern forms a task force and sends a diplomatic delegation to Libya.

July 29: Two Swiss nationals arrested in Libya are released from jail but are not permitted to leave the country.

August 13-16: A high-ranking Libyan delegation arrives in Switzerland for talks with the foreign ministry.

September 2: The servants withdraw their complaint after reaching a financial arrangement with Hannibal, ending the legal process.

October 10-12: Reports say Libya is to stop oil deliveries and withdraw its deposits in Swiss banks, but this is subsequently denied. Libya cuts its own airline's flights to Switzerland.

December 15: Libya informs Swiss International Air Lines that it may not longer fly to Tripoli "for technical reasons".

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