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Libyan-Born Italians Return to Birthplace

A group of Libyan-born Italians will return to Tripoli, Wednesday, for the first time since they were expelled when Colonel Moammar Gaddafi took power. Some 20,000 Italians were ordered to leave the country by the new Libyan government, in 1970.

Seven Italians born in Libya will be traveling to their country of birth Wednesday. They have not been allowed to return for the past 34 years. They were recently issued visas by the Libyan authorities.

The group includes a 34-year-old woman who is thought to be the last of the Italians who were born in Libya. She was too young to remember her home in Tripoli.

The group will stay in the Libya for five days. They will meet with government officials and visit the places where they lived and grew up. Among them is Giovanna Ortu, president of the Association of Italians Repatriated from Libya.

Mrs. Ortu says Colonel Gaddafi confiscated all their property, when he came to power. Then, he expelled them. They never returned to Libya.

Mrs. Ortu says this was not so noticeable when Libya was closed to tourism and normal visits. But, when sanctions were lifted by the United States, the discrimination towards Italians who were formerly residents in Libya became more evident.

This group is only the first, says Mrs Ortu. From now on, all those who were born in Tripoli will be able to return and will be granted a visa.

Twenty-thousand Italians were exiled from Libya, when Colonel Gaddafi took power. Most had been in the country since the days when Libya was an Italian colony.

Relations between Tripoli and Rome began improving, significantly, following the 1998 signing of a joint Italian-Libyan statement in which the Rome government expressed regret and apologized for the pain and damages caused by Italy's occupation.

The return of the exiled Italians is a sign of the steadily improving relations Libya is enjoying with the West.

Colonel Gaddafi has also promised that October 7, until now marked as "Vendetta Day," because that is when Italy invaded Libya in 1911, will now be celebrated as "Friendship Day".