Qaddafi uses Western concerns for foreigners' safety to undercut unity

Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi is waging an all-out information war to deter any new United States military action against him. He is doing this by playing up US fears that American workers in Libya could be casualties and by highlighting disunity among Western allies over how to deal with Libya.

Tripoli was calm and without any visible defense preparations Sunday as the US Sixth Fleet was reportedly in a ``holding pattern'' in the Mediterranean.

While Vernon Walters, the US ambassador to the UN, traveled around Western Europe trying to convince US allies to support further US action, Colonel Qaddafi's personal campaign of deterrence took several forms.

In a statement to Western news agencies, Qaddafi said he had pulled Libyan troops from ``15 military camps'' that the US news media had named as prospective targets for American planes and warships. Foreign workers, including about 1,000 American oil workers, would be moved from their homes to the camps and would live there, Qaddafi said.

However, Western diplomats representing US interests here said there was no sign Sunday that Qaddafi had begun moving anyone.

``It might just be a bluff, but you can't be sure with Col. Qaddafi,'' one longtime foreign resident here said.

A serious incident heightened nervousness among foreigners here yesterday. The British Broadcasting Corporation reported Sunday that Msgr. Giovanni Martinelli, a Roman Catholic Church leader, and four others were arrested Thursday night by armed men. The incident reportedly took place in Benghazi. Italian Ambassador Giorgio Raitano is heading efforts to locate the five, the BBC said. The others missing were identified as three priests -- from the Philippines, Malta, and Poland -- and an Italian nun. Government spokesmen had no comment.

Libya's foreign minister called in Western diplomats over the weekend to protest statements by the NATO Secretary General, Lord Carrington, and Supreme NATO Commander Bernard Rogers, a US Army general.

Lord Carrington has supported the principle of US retribution against Libya for its alleged connection with terrorist incidents, including the April 2 explosion aboard a TWA jetliner over Greece, and the bombing of a West Berlin nightclub on April 5.

General Rogers said there was incontrovertible evidence of Libyan involvement in the West Berlin bombing.

``These declarations,'' said JANA, the official Libyan news agency, ``represent the attitude of the [Western] alliance concerning the aggression which the US is preparing against Libya.''

By threatening to use US and NATO bases in Brtian, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Turkey, other Libyan statements added, the US is dragging the Western alliance into what began as a bilateral US-Libyan confrontation.

Qaddafi has repeated several times that any such bases would be susceptible to Libyan attack. Foreign observers here say the main candidates are Sigonella Air Base in Sicily, US air and naval faculties in Spain, and Souda Bay on the large Greek island of Crete.

Libyan newspapers and radio and television programs constantly warn the Europeans and Libya's Arab neighbors not to get involved in US action. They echoed a weekend warning from Qaddafi that Libya might have to call for military aid from the Soviet Union and East bloc.

Mr. Cooley, the Monitor's former Middle East reporter, is an ABC staff correspondent.

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