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Colonial Payback

DW staff (kjb)August 30, 2008

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Rome will invest $5 billion in Libya in an effort to turn the page on colonial-era disputes that have weighed on the countries' relations.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi talks with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Benghazi, Libya on Aug. 30
The plan calls for $200 million to be invested annually for 25 yearsImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Libyan Foreign Minsiter Abdel-Rahman Shalgam told reporters on Saturday, Aug. 30, that Berlusconi had pledged $5 billion (3.4 billion euros) worth of construction projects, student grants and pensions for Libyan soldiers who served in the Italian military during World War II.

The accord will provide for $200 million a year over the next 25 years through investments in infrastructure projects.

"This agreement should put an end to 40 years of discord," Berlusconi said. "It is a full and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era."

One of the main projects to be financed is a freeway running along the Mediterranean coast, said Berlusconi, who'd already pledged funding for the road on a 2004 visit to the country.

In return, Italy wants Libya to crack down on illegal migrants turning up on Italian shores and has promised to fund $500 million worth of electronic monitoring devices on the Libyan coastline.

Making amends

Surrounded by aides and children, Berlusconi and Gaddafi talk at a table
Italy plans to invest in the Libya's infrastructure -- for the next generationImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Also on Saturday, Italy returned a second-century Roman statue of the goddess Venus, which had been discovered by Italian soldiers on the Libyan coast in 1913.

Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911 before becoming a colony in the 1930s. It was briefly governed by an UN-mandated Franco-British administration before gaining independence in 1951.

Berlusconi, on his second trip to Libya since June, was visiting the Mediterranean city of Benghazi. He was scheduled to meet Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi Saturday to sign a friendship agreement.

Libya has named Aug. 30 Libyan-Italian Friendship Day.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to follow Berlusconi's lead next week, with the first visit by a high-ranking US official to Libya since 1953. Relations between the US and Libya were suspended between 1981 and 2004 due to Tripoli's alleged support of terrorism.