Qaddafi as a Debutante

For a nation three times the size of France with the world's third-largest oil reserves, Libya sure gets plenty of neglect.

That can be chalked up to the terrorist-sponsoring and eccentric past of its leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

Last week, America's bte noire celebrated the 30th anniversary of his overthrow of Libya's monarchy by hosting African leaders and asking them to form a "United States of Africa," with him as "mayor." The idea drew more giggles than acclaim.

Mr. Qaddafi tried to use the summit as his debut on the world stage after decades of being a global troublemaker. Last April, the UN suspended economic sanctions against Libya after it finally turned over two intelligence officers to be put on trial for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet.

Qaddafi has now turned to Africa - where he has long supported rebel groups - as a path to rehabilitation. He is spurned by fellow Arab radicals. At the same time, several European nations, drawn by Libya's oil wealth, are inching toward reconciliation. But the United States still holds the key to lifting Qaddafi's pariah status.

So far, Washington maintains its unilateral sanctions, classifying Qaddafi as a sort of Saddam Hussein without weapons of mass destruction. And human rights activists say he has jailed hundreds of political dissidents in his desert nation of 5 million.

The US has a history of eventually working with dictators with blood on their hands who want to come clean, such as Hun Sen in Cambodia or Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

But Qaddafi's desert mirage - his debutante's ball as a regional African leader - hardly convinces us he's no longer dangerous. Let's wait to see if he's really a new man.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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