Italy to Pay $5 Billion to Libya in Landmark Accord



Italy agreed to pay Libya $5 billion as compensation for its 30-year occupation of the country during the 20th century. The money will be invested by Italy over a 25-year period. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday signed a "friendship pact" with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. Under the pact, Italy agreed to compensate Libya for abuses it committed during its colonial rule of the North African country.

Italy will invest $5 billion in Libya in a deal that effectively turns the page on colonial-era disputes that have long tarnished their relations.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made the announcement during a visit to the Mediterranean city of Benghazi where he met Libyan leader Moammar Gadhdafi. He said the accord would provide for $200 million a year over the next 25 years through investments in infrastructure projects in Libya.

The compensation package involves construction projects, student grants, and pensions for Libyan soldiers who served with the Italians during World War II. It also includes a coastal highway stretching across the country from Tunisia to Egypt.

Mr. Berlusconi's office said in a statement that the premier would also hand over to Gadhafi the goddess Venus of Cyrene, an ancient Roman statue taken in 1913 by Italian troops from the ruins of the Greek and Roman settlement of Cyrene, on the Libyan coast.

Prime Minister Berlusconi said this agreement should put an end to 40 years of discord and is a concrete and moral acknowledgment of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era. But many Libyans who lived under Italy's domination find it difficult to forget. A man says the behavior of Italians was cruel. They treated the Libyans like dogs.

Italy is Libya's biggest trade partner with 25 percent of Italian oil imports coming from the North African country. It now also hopes the agreement will open the path to further cooperation.

Italy would like to see Libya crack down further on illegal migrants turning up on Italian shores and will fund $500 million worth of electronic monitoring devices on the Libyan coastline.
Relations between the two countries have warmed over the last few years but it has taken years of negotiations for the two sides to hammer out a deal on compensation for Italy's rule over Libya from 1911 to 1943.
Following Saturday's agreement, Libya named August 30, Libyan-Italian Friendship Day.


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