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Swiss ready to drop Libya travel ban

EU diplomats have told Switzerland to resolve its dispute with Libya Keystone Archive

Switzerland says it is ready to repeal a Europe-wide travel ban on top-level Libyan politicians in hopes Libya will drop visa restrictions on EU citizens.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey called the offer a gesture of “goodwill” and said the country’s ultimate goal was the release of Max Göldi, a businessman serving a prison sentence in Libya.

“The government is prepared, within the framework of the European Union mediation, to lift the ban on certain categories of Libyan citizens,” the government said in a short statement on Wednesday night.

“It expects Libya to lift its travel ban for citizens from the Schengen area.”

Calmy-Rey spent Wednesday in discussions with the European Union’s chief diplomat, Catherine Ashton. She told a media conference after the talks the Swiss would not provide details on negotiations.

Calmy-Rey called the meeting “constructive”.

Ashton said she welcomed Switzerland’s “commitment to find a diplomatic solution as shown by their readiness to withdraw the blacklist of Libyan officials.”

“React in a positive way”

“The EU expects that the Libyan authorities will react in a positive way and lift the restrictive measures on EU citizens,” Ashton said in a statement.

Over the past several weeks, Italy and Malta have applied pressure on Switzerland to lift its ban, a policy that affects between 150 and 180 Libyans, including leader Moammar Gaddafi and his family.

The ban means Gaddafi as well as other senior political officials and diplomats are not allowed to travel unrestricted through Europe’s 25-nation Schengen area, which would otherwise be allowed.

European governments have said the ban, which is permissible under the Schengen agreement, was applied inappropriately for political reasons.

The EU Commission wants a solution as quickly as possible. On April 5 Italy will present a proposal that would allow countries to circumvent the kind of bans Switzerland applied.

A European diplomat told earlier in March that countries could already ignore Switzerland’s ban under current laws.

Immigration concerns

Mediterranean countries are believed to be concerned about immigration. Italy and Libya last year signed a cooperation treaty where Italy could directly return illegal migrants travelling through Libya.

Max Göldi is serving a four-month prison sentence for immigration violations. He and another businessman were picked up in July 2008 by Libyan authorities after police in Geneva arrested a son of Moammar Gaddafi.

The son, Hannibal Gaddafi, was released soon after but the two Swiss men were prevented by Libya from leaving the country. Rachid Hamdani, the other Swiss, was released this January.

Libya first demanded an apology from Switzerland and imposed economic measures, including closing Swiss companies, stopping flights, halting oil exports to Switzerland and withdrawing deposits from Swiss banks.

The country also wants an international tribunal to rule on compensation for the Gaddafi son, Hannibal, whose mugshot was printed in a Geneva newspaper. and agencies

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

July 19: Swiss nationals Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani are arrested in Tripoli. In the following days, Swiss businesses are forced to shut and the number of flights to Tripoli is cut.

August 20, 2009: The Swiss president apologises in Tripoli for the arrest.

September: Göldi and Hamdani cannot leave the country despite a promise they would be freed by September 1.They disappear after undergoing a medical check-up in Tripoli. They are returned to embassy on November 9.

November: Swiss cabinet says it will pursue visa restrictions for Libyans.

December 1: Göldi and Hamdani sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined. In January 2010 this is cut to 4 months for Göldi, and Hamdani found not guilty.

January – February 2010: Hamdani cleared of second charge of conducting business illegally. Göldi given modest fine.

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 17-18: Swiss, Libyan, Italian, Spanish and Maltese foreign ministers try to hammer out a solution.

February 22: Göldi hands himself over to Libyan authorities to start four month prison term. Hamdani obtains an exit visa and leaves for Tunisia. He arrives in Switzerland on February 23.

March: European diplomats pile pressure on Switzerland to lift the ban. Italy and Malta threaten to ignore it.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR