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Cablegate: Update On Libyan-Swiss Crisis: Swiss Citizens Back In

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FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5292
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
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RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 5837

2009-09-24 16:23:00 09TRIPOLI763 Embassy Tripoli SECRET//NOFORN 09BERN387|09TRIPOLI714 VZCZCXRO3629\
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DE RUEHTRO #0763/01 2671623\
ZNY SSSSS ZZH\
O P 241623Z SEP 09\
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI\
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5292\
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE\
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC\
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 5837 S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000763 \
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NOFORN \
SIPDIS \
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DEPT FOR NEA/MAG AND EUR \
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 9/24/2019 \
TAGS: PREL PHUM CASC LY SZ
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON LIBYAN-SWISS CRISIS: SWISS CITIZENS BACK IN \
LIBYAN CUSTODY \
\
REF: A) Tripoli 714; B) Bern 387 \
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TRIPOLI 00000763 001.2 OF 002 \
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CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, \
Department of State. \
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) \
1. (S/NF) Summary: Swiss Charge Stefano Lazarotto confirmed \
that the two Swiss citizens - held in Libya for more than a year \
- had been detained by GOL authorities on September 19 when they \
reported for medical tests, ostensibly in preparation for their \
departure. Lazarotto welcomed U.S. intervention in this case, \
but was entirely unaware of Bern's request for U.S. assistance. \
Despite daily calls to contacts in the MFA and Prime Minister's \
Office, the Swiss Embassy has received no direct assurances on \
the health or safety of the citizens. Others in the local \
diplomatic community have blamed the Swiss for continuing to \
mishandle the case, including recent vetoes of Schengen visas \
for key Libyan officials. End Summary. \
\
2. (S/NF) During a September 22 meeting with P/E Chief, Swiss \
Charge Stefano Lazarotto expressed surprise that Post was privy \
to information regarding the detention September 19 of two Swiss \
citizens who have not been allowed to leave Libya since July \
2008 (ref A). Lazarotto claimed to be under strict instructions \
from Bern not to discuss the case with other members of the \
diplomatic community and was unaware of the request made in Bern \
by the Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister for U.S. intervention in \
the matter (ref B). \
\
3. (S/NF) Lazarotto confirmed that the two Swiss businessmen had \
been called by Libyan authorities to report for medical exams in \
preparation for their release from the country. However, once \
they presented themselves to the GOL, they were taken into \
custody unexpectedly and have not been seen since. Lazarotto \
said that in spite of daily calls to his contacts in the \
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister's Office, he has \
not been allowed to visit the Swiss citizens. Nor has he \
received any positive assurances that the citizens are healthy \
and safe. He said that he is updating Bern daily with situation \
reports but that nothing had changed since September 19. \
Lazarotto has been trying without success to call Prime Minister \
al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi directly to plead the Swiss case but has \
only been able to reach lower level officials in Mahmoudi's \
office. \
\
4. (S/NF) Lazarotto noted that the surprise detention of the \
Swiss citizens stood in marked contrast to recent positive \
signals, including the dispatch of a team of Libyan officials to \
Switzerland to negotiate the way forward (ref B) and an \
agreement to prioritize the release of the Swiss businessmen. \
While many reasons had been posited for the unexpected detention \
of the businessmen, Lazarotto thought the rumor that Libya \
feared Swiss military intervention was laughable. He said that \
the rumor he had heard was that the GOL was concerned that the \
Swiss businessmen would try to flee the country without \
permission. However, even that scenario was impossible, \
according to Lazarotto, given that his embassy was under 24-hour \
surveillance by GOL authorities and that the Libyans would not \
allow them to leave without exit stamps in their passports, \
which are still being held by the GOL. \
\
5. (C/NF) The Swiss Charge welcomed U.S. assistance in urging \
the Libyans to release the Swiss businessmen. Lazarotto feared \
his position was precarious and expressed appreciation for \
continued U.S. interest in the case. He said that the optic of \
U.S. interest made him feel safe. Lazarotto reported that he \
was also in contact with the Italian, German, and French \
Embassies in Tripoli. \
\
6. (C/NF) While the Swiss Charge is reaching out across the \
local diplomatic community for moral support, representatives of \
some embassies in Tripoli blame the Swiss for continuing to \
mishandle the case. On September 22, the Ambassador of Portugal \
(strictly protect) told the Ambassador that the Swiss were \
continuing to provoke the Libyans. Most recently, the Swiss had \
reportedly exercised their veto power within the Schengen visa \
regime to deny Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi a Schengen visa \
to land in Portugal for a matter of hours en route to New York \
for the UN General Assembly. The Embassy of Portugal intervened \
to avoid a public scandal by issuing a national visa to Qadhafi \
for his transit stay. As a second example of what he called a \
"continuing pattern of ineptitude" on the part of the Swiss, the \
Portuguese Ambassador said that the Swiss had also exercised \
their veto right to deny the son of Libyan Prime Minister \
al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi - the Libyan official charged with \
managing the Swiss case - a Schengen visa for a trip. Once \
again, the Portuguese intervened to issue a national visa to \
allow Mahmoudi's son to enter the country. The Portugese \
expected the PM to be furious if he discovered the Swiss action \
regarding his son. \
\
7. (C/NF) Comment: Discussions with the Swiss Charge revealed a \
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TRIPOLI 00000763 002.2 OF 002 \
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disconnect between Bern and its embassy in Tripoli. While the \
Swiss Government seems to be building alliances at the Deputy \
Foreign Minister level to advocate on its behalf, it is \
rendering the Swiss Embassy weak and vulnerable by keeping the \
Charge uninformed. Likewise, the continued Swiss mishandling of \
visa issues, especially when they involve influential regime \
figures, will make it that much more difficult for the Swiss to \
achieve a swift and positive resolution. End Comment. \
CRETZ \

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