WikiLeaks reveals Swiss problems in Libya

Swiss diplomats in Libya received “polite refusals” from other embassies in Tripoli to a request for back-up assistance to two Swiss hostages, leaked reports reveal.

This content was published on February 2, 2011 - 14:59

Wednesday’s edition of the French-language newspaper Le Temps carries revelations from WikiLeaks about the two years of crisis between Switzerland and Libya, sparked by the brief detention in Geneva of a son of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi in 2008.

In December 2009, the Swiss chargé d’affaires, Stefano Lazzarotto, feared he could be expelled from Libya, leaving the two Swiss businessmen – who were holed up in the embassy – at the mercy of the Libyan authorities.

He asked a number of other embassies to protect the two men and give them material help. None agreed to do so; Le Temps quotes the response of the United States chargé d’affaires, Joan A. Polaschik to his request.

“We believe that direct assistance by the American government to the Swiss citizens could harm our bilateral interests,” she wrote.

The WikiLeaks revelations also show how the Swiss decision to prevent certain Libyans from receiving Schengen visas angered Tripoli. Libya took revenge by imposing an unannounced ban on travel by Schengen citizens, creating “chaos” at Tripoli airport where dozens were left stranded.

Le Temps quotes an Italian diplomat as saying the Libyans used the visa affair to step up pressure on Switzerland. “[This was] successful in that it worsened the already tense relations between the country and the European Union.”

One of the two Swiss businessmen eventually served a four month sentence in Libya, returning home in June 2010. The legality of Hannibal Gaddafi’s detention is still to be investigated.

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