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Opinion: The Trouble with Muammar

After years of international ostracism, Libyan dictator Gaddafi may see his wish come true. The lifting of U.N. sanctions against the "rogue" state is nearer now than ever. But Libya should not be absolved of its crimes.

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Money can't buy forgivenness: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

No one knows how many people have been condemned to his prisons, how many have been tortured to death, driven out of their minds or mentally damaged. Muammar Gaddafi is an unscrupulous dictator.

For 34 years, since Sept. 1, 1969, he has guided the fortunes and misfortunes of his country. He led Libya into international isolation. Gaddafi's Libya has been declared responsible for the bombing of the West Berlin discotheque La Belle that killed three and injured around 100 in 1986, the bombing of a passenger plane over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that resulted in 270 deaths in 1989 and the bombing of a French passenger flight above Niger that killed 170.

Gaddafi is responsible for the rogue state image that has made Libya a pariah in the international community. As a result of his ideological delusions and his absurd sense of mission, poverty and unemployment are on the rise in Libya, rich as it is in raw materials.

No longer a pariah?

But now Gaddafi wants his country to again become a full member of the international community. The 61-year-old revolutionary leader is not suddenly responding to reason but to penury. Thirteen years of U.N. sanctions weigh heavy on Libya's economy. Without a change of course "Brother General" -- as he is addressed -- has recognized that he'll never make it out of the sweat box.

Gaddafi has been trying for years to sort things out with Washington without losing too much face. He handed over the alleged Lockerbie assassins to the Netherlands, where they were tried and one of them was convicted. He was the first Arab state leader after 9/11 to recognize the U.S.'s sovereign right to self-defense against terrorists operating internationally. He offered Washington help in combating fundamental Islamists, and his intelligence services have provided the U.S. with valuable information. He also made up his mind to pay billions to the relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie attack.

Blood money

Gaddafi hopes to pay away his and his country's crimes. Is it immoral? Yes, it is. But the bartering on the part of Britain, the United States and above all France about the level of compensation payments isn't free of blemishes either.

Libya will pay because the country can't afford to remain under the whip of substantial sanctions for much longer. The West should use the opportunity to reintegrate and resocialize the rogue state.

The reasons are clear: Turning up the heat on Libya -- the alternative preferred by some -- wouldn't necessarily lead to the end of Gaddafi's dictatorship. It would more likely boost the energies of extremists and create a new trouble spot in the Middle East, which can't possibly be in the interest of the United States or Europe.

Nor should Gaddafi be let off the hook or absolved. He is a tyrant who has spent a lot of money and national wealth on weapons and political pipe dreams. Gaddafi should be held accountable -- by his people if they so wish. The sooner Libya rejoins the international community, the greater the chance its people will have to discover and develop their political voice.

Reinhard Baumgarten is a correspondent for the German public broadcaster Südwestrundfunk.

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