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U.S. lawmakers arrive in a friendly Libya

By Wire services
Published March 2, 2004

TRIPOLI, Libya - In the latest sign that U.S.-Libya relations are thawing rapidly after a quarter-century of animosity, seven American members of Congress arrived here Monday for meetings today with Libya's leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

One of them, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said full diplomatic ties between the countries could be restored by year's end.

The visit created scenes that were unthinkable only a few months ago. The Americans were greeted by smiling Libyan officials as they stepped from an official U.S. jet and down a red-carpeted staircase.

Later, the delegation, wearing pins depicting joined U.S. and Libyan flags, strolled through the old section of Tripoli, past shops selling carpets, jewelry and copper vases and plates. Weldon passed out pens to two Libyan children, as some of the delegates bought souvenirs.

Today, the delegation is to fly to the Mediterranean seaside town of Sirte, where Weldon is to speak to Libya's Parliament and the delegation will meet with Gadhafi and other senior Libyan officials.

High on the agenda will be assessing the progress in dismantling Libya's nuclear and biological weapons programs, which Gadhafi promised in December to give up.

"The steps he is taking are positive," Weldon said. "Our administration laid out a time frame. As long as that timetable is agreed to, we are optimistic that we can see full diplomatic relations before the end of the year."

When asked whether Libya, which the United States still lists as a sponsor of terrorism, can be trusted to give up its quest for atomic weapons, Weldon said: "So far they have done everything they said they would do."

It was the latest in a string of visits by American politicians since Gadhafi pledged to abandon his country's efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction, and came four days after the United States ended a 23-year-old travel ban on Libya.

Human rights group decries Libyan record

TRIPOLI, Libya - Amnesty International, given its first access to Libya in 15 years, has detailed a number of serious human rights violations, including the disappearance of prisoners and intolerance of political activity.

The four-member team shared its report with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who promised to consider Amnesty's recommendations, team leader Claudio Cordone told the Associated Press early Monday.

"We have people imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their views. We have a wide practice of holding people for years without being given access to their families and lawyers, with facilities of torture used often," Cordone said. "We have the death penalty for a variety of offenses, including some that criminalize freedom of expression. We have people's courts with unfair trails."

Amnesty's recommendations included the release of political prisoners, independent investigations into the fate of missing people, a review of the death penalty and the abolition of the people's court, which deprives citizens of the right to be represented by legal counsel.

[Last modified March 2, 2004, 01:44:59]

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