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Cablegate: Gol Seeks to Turn the Page On Lingering Human Rights Issues

VZCZCXRO2821
OO RUEHTRO
DE RUEHTRO #0923/01 3361044
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O P 011044Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4194
INFO RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO PRIORITY 1324
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS PRIORITY 0684
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS PRIORITY 0828
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT PRIORITY 0774
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0947
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0634
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 4716

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000923

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR DRL/NESCA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/1/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM LY
SUBJECT: GOL SEEKS TO TURN THE PAGE ON LINGERING HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES

REF: A) TRIPOLI 882, B) TRIPOLI 920 CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1. (C) Summary: A group of older political prisoners, many of whom are in ill health, may be released soon in connection with talks that have taken place under the auspices of the quasi-governmental Qadhafi Development Foundation (QDF). Separately, the GOL and QDF may soon significantly raise the amount of compensation offered to families of individuals killed in the 1996 Abu Salim prison riot to help secure an agreement with them to bring their legal claims to an end. Both developments are part of an effort by the GOL to pave the way for the celebration on September 1, 2009 of the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought al-Qadhafi to power. Bringing some sense of closure to the Abu Salim issue would be an important step as Libya moves forward with a broader agenda of (vaguely defined) political and economic reform in the run-up to the September 1 festivities. End summary.

A GROUP OF POLITICAL PRISONERS MAY BE RELEASED SOON

2. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx(strictly protect) told us on November 26 that the Government of Libya may release "within days" a tranche of 40-60 political prisoners. Talks about the potential release have been ongoing for nearly two months and have taken place under the auspices of the quasi-governmental Qadhafi Development Foundation (QDF), reportedly with the personal involvement of Saleh Abdulsalam Saleh, head of the QDF's Human Rights Committee. Noting that many, if not most, of the prisoners were older and in poor health, he said they had been carefully vetted by GOL security services, who were confident that they would not take up unwelcome political activities. While a few had made "full political conversions" and renounced their opposition to al-Qadhafi's regime, most were being released simply so they could seek medical treatment, with the understanding that they were "too old and too broken" to pose a threat. Drawing a parallel with the case of regime critic Idriss Boufayed (ref A and previous), who was released well after it was known that he was suffering from terminal lung cancer, xxxxxxxxxxxx expressed the hope that the QDF and HRSL could in time get the GOL to release political prisoners "before they're on their deathbeds".

POTENTIAL MOVEMENT ON ABU SALIM MASSACRE NEGOTIATIONS

3. (C) Separately, xxxxxxxxxxxx said there had recently been movement on negotiations between the GOL, QDF and families of the victims of those killed in the Abu Salim prison riots. (Note: Prisoners staged a demonstration in 1996 at Abu Salim prison, near Tripoli, a facility run by military place under oversight by the Internal Security Organization at which a large number of political prisoners are held. According to opposition website reports, the GOL responded with massive force, herding inmates into a central courtyard and opening fire with automatic weapons. Some reports put the number killed at 1,200. End note.) Libyan state-owned media and on the QDF's website reported that the GOL offered 120,000 Libyan dinars (approximately USD 97,000) in compensation to each victim's family in August. xxxxxxxxxxxx estimated the total number of families to be 1,100-1,200, and said that a number of families - many of whom have sought to bring legal action against the GOL - had rejected the amount as too small, pointing to other cases in which victims' families had obtained much larger settlements -- notably the families of the Benghazi children infected with the AIDS virus, who received one million Libyan dinars per child. (Note: The principle of compensation for lost family members is deeply ingrained in Libya's predominantly tribal society and, as seen in recent cases involving the Bulgarian nurses, the Italy-Libya colonial compensation agreement and compensation for U.S. victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism, plays a prominent role in Libya's approach to foreign policy as well. End note.)

4. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx argued that two things need to happen to unstick the negotiations, which have been heavily featured in externally-based opposition website reports:
1) the GOL should increase the amount of compensation offered to families, and;
2) families must abandon claims for "unreasonable" sums. xxxxxxxxxxxx said there is increasing awareness by GOL and QDF officials that the amount of compensation will have to be raised. Based on his consultations with the families, xxxxxxxxxxxx has recommended to GOL and QDF officials that 500,000 LD (approximately USD 405,000) would be an appropriate amount. He believes a counter-offer on that order will be made to the families in the coming weeks. Many of the holdout families are from Benghazi. Noting eastern TRIPOLI 00000923 002 OF 002 Libyans' reputation as being willfully obstinate, he complained that some of the families were "simple-minded and greedy". Some have sought the HRSL's assistance in contacting the International Criminal Court (ICC) to determine whether they might be able to pursue a case with the ICC. xxxxxxxxxxxx has tried to discourage them from doing so, arguing that there is a robust negotiations process in place and a sufficient architecture between the QDF and the GOL to facilitate a compromise and compensation. His counsel to both sides, he said, has been that 12 years have passed since the Abu Salim massacre and that "we all need to benefit from that passage of time, compromise and move on".

GOL/QDF SEEK TO CLEAR THE DECKS OF LINGERING ISSUES

5. (C) Framing efforts to secure the release of political prisoners and compensation for families of those killed in the Abu Salim massacre, xxxxxxxxxxxx said the GOL (and by, proxy, the QDF) was trying to turn the page on past contretemps in part to help pave the way for a raft of domestic political initiatives it plans to undertake next year in the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought al-Qadhafi to power. In that regard, the initiatives were of a piece with recent projects to finalize an Italy-Libya colonial compensation deal and a U.S.-Libya claims compensation agreement. Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, whose time has been increasingly divided as his role in economic reform and key foreign policy issues has expanded, has nonetheless continued to play an active role in negotiations over the release of political prisoners and Abu Salim. xxxxxxxxxxxx expressed concern that the GOL/QDF efforts were not born of a genuine desire for reconciliation, but rather of a pragmatic need to close nettlesome accounts. Drawing a comparison with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he stressed that "Saif al-Islam is no Mandela". While Saif al-Islam, in xxxxxxxxxxxx's view, saw involvement in the political prisoner and Abu Salim issues as a way to demonstrate to skeptical old guard elements his ability to resolve difficult issues, the issues were sufficiently sensitive that he ran a considerable risk of incurring backlash from conservative regime elements. 6. (C) Comment: The Abu Salim massacre has been and remains a particularly emotive issue for Libyans. The GOL's silence for more than a decade on the matter has been cited by Libya's externally-based opposition as a sign of the regime's callous indifference. Bringing some sense of justice and closure to the issue could constitute an important step as Libya moves forward with a broader agenda of (vaguely defined) political and economic reform in the run-up to the September 1, 2009 anniversary. End comment. STEVENS

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