New envoys for Swiss, Libyans to ease rocky ties

By John Heilprin

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 29 2011 12:20 p.m. MDT

A revolutionary fighter talks to a Libyan man in Tripoli, Libya, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011.

Abdel Magid al-Fergany, Associated Press

GENEVA — Libya's interim leaders are easing relations with Switzerland as they finally put behind them a diplomatic dispute involving one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons.

With the ouster of Gadhafi last month, Libya has sent a new ambassador to Switzerland, Sliman Bouchuiguir, who presented his credentials Thursday to Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey and Federal Chancellor Corina Casanova.

Bouchuiguir headed the Libyan League for Human Rights, which published a paper in March arguing for a new relationship with the Swiss, and described the Libyans' dealings with Switzerland as being governed "by emotion and improvisation."

The Swiss Cabinet, in turn, appointed Michel Gottret — a physicist-turned-diplomat who most recently has been serving as envoy to Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain — the new Swiss ambassador in Tripoli, where the Swiss plan to soon reopen their embassy.

"Ambassador Gottret will take up his new post as soon as possible," the Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

"Clarifications and preparations are currently under way concerning the reopening of the Swiss Embassy in Tripoli, which had to be closed at the beginning of 2011 for security reasons," it said.

Gadhafi's son and daughter-in-law were arrested in July 2008 for allegedly beating their servants in a Geneva hotel. The couple were later released without being charged, but the incident sparked a diplomatic feud between Libya and Switzerland.

Tripoli suspended visas for Swiss citizens, withdrew funds from Swiss banks, stopped oil shipments, reduced flights to Switzerland, and detained two Swiss businessmen on immigration charges.

But after the NATO-backed rebellion that ousted Gadhafi, the National Transitional Council is now governing Libya headed by Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and other officials seeking to bring armed groups under the control of a central authority.

Libya's interim leaders have been holding talks with U.N. and other international officials to work out ways to stabilize the country and best use billions of dollars in unfrozen assets. World leaders have sought to unblock billions of dollars in Gadhafi-linked assets in foreign banks that were frozen earlier this year by U.N. sanctions aimed at pressuring the Libyan dictator to halt violence against an anti-government movement.

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