libya severs diplomatic ties with lebanon

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    Sep. 4, 2003
    Libya severs diplomatic ties with Lebanon

    Libya has decided to sever diplomatic ties with Lebanon in response to pressure for it to reveal the fate of a missing Lebanese cleric, a Libyan Embassy official said Wednesday.

    Hussein al-Sharif, the charge d'affaires at the Office of Arab Fraternity - as the Libyan Embassy is called - said the decision was made after recent statements by Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

    Berri and Nasrallah called on Libya to reveal the whereabouts of Imam Mousa Sadr, the spiritual leader of Lebanon's Shiite Muslim community who disappeared during a visit to Libya in 1978. Berri and Nasrallah are Shiites.

    "Our decision was taken as a result of recent speeches made by Lebanese officials and some editorials that appeared in the [local] newspapers that contained improper words and style," Sharif told The Associated Press.

    Lebanese Foreign Minister Jean Obeid refused to comment Wednesday on the reported closure of the Libyan Embassy.

    While Lebanese Shiites have long blamed Libya for Sadr's disappearance, such calls intensified after Libya accepted responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Scotland, which killed 270 people, and agreed to pay compensation.

    "You [the Libyan regime] have admitted the 1988 aggression. Why do you ignore the 1978 aggression?" Berri asked a rally on Sunday that was attended by thousands of people in the eastern Lebanese city Baalbek. The rally commemorated Sadr's disappearance. Berri accused Libya of favoring Western states and not caring about Lebanon.

    "Why did you succumb to the foreigners and forgot those who are close to you?" he asked.

    On Monday, Nasrallah, whose Hizbullah is overwhelmingly Shiite, called on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to "admit responsibility" for Sadr's disappearance.

    Libya insists Sadr and his two aides left its territory on a flight to Rome at the end of their August 1978 visit, but Italian authorities have denied he arrived in Italy.

    Lebanese officials believe Sadr disappeared after having an argument with Gaddafi.

    Diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Libya have often been strained because of the Sadr issue. Last year, Libya asked for a change of venue for the Arab summit that was held in Beirut after leaders of Lebanon's Shiite community called on the government to bar Gaddafi. The government said Gaddafi could attend the summit, but he sent an envoy instead.
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