Libya sidles up to Soviet Union, posing new threat to Africa

All signs point to: * Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's abandoning his longstanding formal position of nonalignment between the superpowers in favor of a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union.

* The Soviet Union's abandoning its reported reluctance to accept Colonel Qaddafi as a treaty partner because of his record (as outsiders see it) of capriciousness and of his commitment more to a zealous brand of revolutionary Islam than anything approaching Marxist-Leninism.

The evidence includes:

First, Moscow's interest in Libya, which is nothing new. The Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin made an unsuccessful bid for a United Nations trusteeship relationship with the former Italian colony when Italy's overseas empire was being disposed of at the Paris peace conference at the end of World War II. The Russians have long understood the strategic value of them of naval bases in the Mediterranean beyond the constricting confines of the Black Sea.

Second, a passage in Colonel Qaddafi's Tripoli speech earlier this month on the 13th anniversary of the revolution that brought him to power. He said: "We are being obliged to ally ourselves military with whoever is disposed to defend us against America. No neutrality is possible in wartime. Otherwise, neutrals would be chicken-hearted cowards. For my part, I think we must ally ourselves with the enemy [i.e., the USSR] of our enemy [i.e., the US], who will then necessarily be our friend."

Third, an article by the unsually well-connected Middle East expert of the Paris newspaper Le Monde, Eric Rouleau, from Tripoli Sept. 8 that reported without qualification that the Libyan decision to move to a treaty of friendship with Moscow had been taken.

Mr. Rouleau said that the pro-Moscow President of South Yemen, Ali Nasser Muhammad, and the secretary-general of the Lebanese Communist Party, George Hawi , had been involved in the negotiations, but the Colonel Qaddafi needed time before making any explicit announcement in order to prepare Libyan public opinion and the Libyan military for his swing away from nonalignment toward the Soviets.

Fourth, Czechoslovak President Guslav Husak's visit to Tripoli last week. From Libya, he went to Ethiopia and South Yemen, two Soviet client states with which Qaddafi was signing a friendship treaty directed against the US almost at the very moment last month that US jets shot down two Libyan aircraft over the Gulf of Sidra.

A correspondent of the London Observer in Tripoli quoted a Western diplomat in the Libyan capital as saying: "The [Husak] visit is extremely significant. A week ago, I was not sure if Colonel Qaddafi's threat to turn to the Russians was just a warning to the West or a real commitment to the Soviet bloc. But by so promptly sending a Russian surrogate in Husak, the Russians clearly show they mean business."

Just as Colonel Qaddafi is moving closer to Moscow, France's new Socialist President, Francois Mitterand, is quietly trying to help the Libyan leader's one and only client, President Goukhouni Woddei of chad, to move away from his current total dependence on Libya.

Colonel Qaddafi has the potential to make continued trouble for the US and the West in general. He has his oil wealth, with which he can finance terrorism and revolutionary movements. The current Libyan military presence in Chad enables him to threaten the entire Nile Valley to the east, where the pro-Western governments of Anwar Sadat and Jaafar Nimeiry are in power in Egypt and Sudan respectively.

A Libyan-Soviet friendship treaty would bring these Libyan threats that much closer to being Soviet threats. Add to that the fact that it will be Qaddafi's turn to become president of the Organization of African Unity in 1982 and to host the annual OAU summit in Tripoli that year.

France shares the US interest in lessening Chad's dependence on Libya and in getting the Libyan troops out of Chad. As long as those troops are in Chad, they are a threat to pro-French regimes in neighboring sub-saharan African states.

Chad had been in a similar position vis-a-vis France until last year. But then French troops were withdrawn for Chad and President goukouni turned to Colonel Qaddafi for military assistance to help him defeat his rival for the Chadian leadership, Defense Minister Hissein Habre -- a man who once had French backing.

Since then, Mr. Goukhouni has been trying to run Chad from his war-devastated capital, N'Djamena, with a Libyan occupation force of 12,000 men on his hands. Once the Libyans had helped him defeat Habre, the President Valery Giscard D'estaing's response was that France could do nothing until Libyan forces were withdrawn.

Under President Mitterand, the French stand has become less' absolute. A French mission has already been in N'Djamena to make an initial assessment of what it will cost to rebuild the capital.

The new French government has announced that it will honor contracts -- suspended by the Giscard administration -- for the supply of light military (particularly naval) equipment to Libya and for French participation in oil and other mineral exploration.

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