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U.N. Embargo Helps Border Go-Getters, But Leaves Libya Unruffled

August 14, 1993

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ U.N. sanctions on Libya are proving a boon to some business go-getters in Egypt and Tunisia but a bust in forcing Moammar Gadhafi to hand over two suspects in the 1988 Pan Am bombing.

The sanctions’ centerpiece, an air embargo, is having little effect in keeping goods from reaching Tripoli. Trucks bring in the cargo instead of planes, sources inside the North African nation report.

Libyan Arab Airlines, barred from international routes, still maintains a skeleton domestic schedule. A million Libyans travel to Tunisia every year, and nearly 1,000 cross Egypt’s main border post every day. Many are vacationers escaping their isolated country.

Sanctions were imposed after the United States and Britain indicted two Libyans in the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people on Dec. 21, 1988. French authorities demand Libyan cooperation in their investigation into the bombing of a French UTA jetliner over Niger in 1989.

Libya’s government gives a gloomy assessment of sanction effects.

Officials say motorists clog roadways, unable to use airliners. They say pregnant women, sick children and old people are dying because Libya is short of medicine and foreign physicians. Nor can ailing Libyans fly abroad for treatment, they complain.

A government complaint presented Friday to the Arab League in Cairo said 1,377 had died because of the embargo.

Libya also says it is suffering huge financial losses in agriculture, manufacturing and transportation.

The United States, Britain and France want to expand the sanctions, but Libya expects no worse than an extension, Gadhafi’s envoys to the Arab League said this week in Cairo.

That would be good news to a scattering of businessmen in Egypt and Tunisia. Tunisia’s border lies only 100 miles west of Tripoli, center of Libya’s commerce and money. Overland trade routes have become more lucrative since international flights were banned.

Official trade figures are not available.

But leaders of Tunisia’s business community say Tunisia rakes in about $5 million extra every month the embargo continues. Tunis Air, the national carrier, has quadrupled services to Jerba, a Mediterranean island resort 155 miles northwest of Tripoli, to accommodate demand from Libyan vacationers.

Egypt shares in the embargo largesse, but less than it expected.

Officers at the Salloum border post report 250 to 300 trucks and 4,000 to 5,000 people travel daily, both ways, through this portal of the Egyptian- Libyan frontier - little changed from pre-embargo times.

Cairo made plans for civilian air traffic to use a military base 50 miles away at Sidi Barrani. Demand was so slow that EgyptAir never followed through.

As for cargo, Salloum’s Customs director, Ibrahim Abbas, said: ″We were expecting Sidi Barrani’s airport to be very busy, but we only receive very limited things for Libya. Mainly fertilized eggs coming from Holland.″

The sanctions - imposed April 15, 1992, and already extended five times - steered clear of the oil industry that provides 95 percent of Libya’s income. Air links and sale of weapons and aircraft parts to Libya were banned. U.N. members were asked to reduce diplomatic representation with Libya.

The main goal was to force surrender of two Libyans for trial in Britain or the United States on charges they planted plastic explosive on Pan Am Flight 103.

Gadhafi has shown no inclination to yield.

Foreign residents of Tripoli reported an aura of expectation there Friday as the U.N. Security Council began discussions on extending the sanctions package.

They expect the sanctions to be lifted, but that won’t happen, one European diplomat predicted from Tripoli.

Some foreign observers question the Libyans’ complaints of hardship.

George Joffe, a Libya specialist based in London, said, ″Their main problem is psychological. They just want the sanctions lifted. There are some physical problems, but in actuality the sanctions are not really hurting. You can’t really hurt them unless you get to the oil.″

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