Fri, 18 Aug 2000

Qaddafi acts to free RP hostages

By Rudolph Chimelli

PARIS (DPA): If Libyan revolutionary leader Muammar Qaddafi manages to secure the release of the hostages being held in the Philippines, then he will have taken an enormous step towards casting off his persona non grata label and his rehabilitation into the international community. A Libyan plane is already waiting on the tarmac in Jolo, ready to carry the hostages home in the event that Qaddafi's special envoy, Radschab as-Saruk, pulls it off.

Reliable sources report that the Libyans have promised to pay the kidnappers US$25 million. The ransom money is allegedly intended for the construction of schools and clinics for the Muslim minority -- to which the kidnappers belong -- in the Catholic-dominated Philippines.

It is almost impossible to prove whether the money is actually from Qaddafi's own coffers or whether he is mediating on behalf of European governments -- none of which are too keen to be seen to be rewarding terrorism. No matter where the truth lies, the Libyan leader is glad of the opportunity to prove he can be useful.

Last year's handover of two Lybian intelligence agents to the tribunal in the Netherlands investigating the bombing of a U.S. plane over Lockerbie in Scotland resulted in the lifting of several of the sanctions imposed on Qaddafi and Libya. However, as long as the sanctions unilaterally imposed by the United States remain in place, it is impossible for Libya to make up for the lack of development caused by almost two decades of isolation.

This period as an international pariah covers almost two- thirds of the 31 years Qaddafi has spent in government. No other leader of a major Arab country has spent as long as at the helm or had such unlimited powers at his disposal. However, Qaddafi is also responsible for a large part of Libya's oil wealth being wasted: on a fully-equipped army with no enemy to engage, combined projects with reluctant fellow Arab nations, very costly friendships with African countries, support for freedom movements around the world, and on an expensive state apparatus.

Qaddafi's special envoy and former Libyan ambassador, as- Saruk, has good connections to Islamic groups in the Philippines while Qaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam, visited the island of Mindanao's Islamic Moro rebels in December last year before the hostages were taken captive. The rebels have nothing to do with the hostages but Libya does support them in the construction of mosques, schools and healthcare facilities.

The sum of $25 million paid -- or not -- to the bandits in the Philippines is enough to make a number of other mouths water and trigger-fingers itch. The world is full of young people with nothing better to do than sit around and polish their weapons. A payment of this size used to be large enough to secure the release of royalty from captivity -- a veritable king's ransom, as the saying goes.

When Richard the Lionheart, for example, fell into the hands of Leopold of Austria, it eventually required 100,000 pieces of silver to set him free, whereas it took four tons of gold to secure the release of King Francois I of France from the clutches of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in 1530.

If Qaddafi can succeed in buying the hostages' freedom and releasing himself from the albatross around his neck -- his reputation as a backer of international terrorism -- then it may well prove to have been money well spent.