Libya moves to break its isolation from Arab and African moderates

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's longstanding desire of influence in Arabia and Africa has propelled him into a series of controversial campaigns that have alienated moderates in both regions.

But now Colonel Qaddafi is moving swiftly to patch up relations in both spheres -- in part because of the protracted battles his troops and the forces he bankrolls have become entangled in; in part because of a desire to forge third-world solidarity against Israel in the wake of Israel's air raid on Iraq.

These diplomatic moves on Colonel Qaddafi's part are dovetailing with ongoing campaigns for Arab unity and for African unity, producing new initiatives to end two conflicts on the frontiers of both worlds.

The two problem areas are the Western Sahara, where Morrocan troops have been fighting Libyan-supported Polisario guerrillas for five years, and Chad, where Libyan troops effectively have occupied the country since last December. The former conflict has split Libya from moderate Arab states; the latter has split Libya from moderate Arab and African states.

But signs of progress in these two areas have been increasing recently. Perhaps the strongest sign was the call last weekend by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting in Nairobi for pan-African and/or United Nations peace-keeping forces to move into both Chad and the Western Sahara. It, of course, remains to be seen whether the OAU, chronically short of funds, will be able to muster and sustain contingents for the two countries.

But the venue for the next OAU meeting -- Tripoli -- would seem to indicate Libyan cooperation can be expected during the next year and that Colonel Qaddafi at least will not openly obstruct these OAU goals.

Libyan diplomats have been very busy in the past two weeks, visiting the capitals of moderate Arab and African states, trying to break the isolation of the north African oil giant. But to do so means Libya has had to assure moderates that it will back off some of its controversial policies in the region.

Colonel Qaddafi's envoys visited Jordan and Iraq two weeks ago in an attempt to ease relations that have been strained since the on- set of the Iran-Iraq war last fall (Libya sided with Iran).

Last week a Libyan envoy departed Rabat, Morocco, after two sessions with King Hassan, and told the Moroccan news agency that relations between the two countries soon could be restored. If this is true (and Moroccan officials have yet to confirm the Libyan claim) it would have to mean Colonel Qaddafi is ready to alter and perhaps end his backing of the Polisarios, which he supports along with Algeria.

These Libyan diplomatic forays follow similar shuttles by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat to Rabat and to Baghdad, seeking to end differences between moderates and radicals in the Arab world.

Impetus for both the Libyan and PLO initiatives seems to have been Israel's destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor and the outcry against Israel by most of the world -- especially the Arab and African worlds.

Libya's Chadian involvement has caused problems for Colonel Qaddafi with the Arab states of Egypt and Sudan. Last week, Sudan broke relations with Libya on account of "clear evidence" of alleged subversive activity; its President, Jaafar Nimeiry reports, that an attempt is under way by he and some other African leaders to expel Libya from the United Nations.

But in general, Libya's public relations damage from the Chad adventure has been slight in the rest of the Arab world, since Egypt is still officially ostracized due to the Camp David agreement, and Sudan recently restored relations with Egypt.

Libya -- and by extension the Arab world -- has been assailed as an occupying power, using its oil money for expansionist purposes rather than to aid African development. The Libyan intervention in Chad was seen by many African commentators as another sign of Arab insensitivity to the poor nations of the third world -- nations adversely affected by the rising oil prices of the 1970s.

Arab diplomatic sources reported recently that Libya has been under growing political pressure from Egypt and Morocco, as well as the United States -- which last month expelled Libyan diplomats from Washington -- and that this may have contributed to Qaddafi's recent moves to break out of isolation. But both Arab and Western sources caution that Qaddafi could quickly change directions again should his overtures to moderates in Arabia and Africa fail.

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