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Interview: Future of Libya depends on success of national reconciliation process: Italian experts

By By Silvia Marchetti (Xinhua)

10:35, August 23, 2011

ROME, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- The day-after the Libyan rebels took control of Tripoli bringing the Gaddafi rule closer to the end, several Italian experts said the key to securing a bright future for Libya lied in the success of a national reconciliation process which had to be launched by the Libyan people as soon as the conflict was over.

"The Libyan national identity is very fragile and must be recreated through the unification of the different tribes and ethnic groups that make up the country. After all, Gaddafi had succeeded in 42 years of reign to coagulate popular consensus and this is what the people must now do," said Arturo Varvelli, a researcher at the Milan-based ISPI institute of international politics.

The risk in his opinion is that Libya may fall into a period of instability and chaos which might render inevitable some form of Western intervention, such as a global peace-keeping mission.

"The following weeks will be crucial in determining the way ahead for the new Libya, we must all wait and see what happens when Gaddafi will be either captured or killed. The situation on the ground is still very complex," he warned.

If on one hand western powers have no intention of increasing their involvement, especially the United States who wants to avoid another conflict like the one in Iraq and Afghanistan and see Libya more as a European affair, on the other no European nation lying in the Mediterranean has an interest in having an unstable neighbor, first of all Italy and France. Let alone an "Iraqized" Libya.

But Stefano Silvestri, director of the Rome-based International Affairs Institute (IAI), turned down the hypothesis of a Western-led peace-keeping operation in Libya.

"I look with much optimism and hope to the international meeting on Libya summoned by France as the perfect venue to pave way towards a political and diplomatic process which may ultimately lead to a Libyan rebirth. The international community is fated to play a crucial role in setting out a concrete transition plan, but the success of the nation-building phase lies in the hands of the Libyan people," he argued.

Despite recognizing that Tripoli's fall into the hands of the rebels brings to "a brief period of optimism especially for the Western nations involved in the NATO mission," Varvelli argued that a longer phase of instability might follow but ruled out the risk of a territorial division of the country.

However, he also agreed that the exit from the crisis will much depend upon the ability of the Libyan people to reconcile and overcome tribal conflicts.

"Time has come for the Transitional National Council (TNC) to make important decisions and demonstrate its leadership. It must show to the people its real identity -- inside the TNC there are many different factions such as the monarchic one supported by the Gulf monarchies and the islamic current which must come together," he said.

"It is vital that all ethnic groups are involved, even those which have remained neutral during the conflict. Everyone must be represented by the new cabinet by means of sound elections," Silvestri stressed.

In Silvestri's view, the main obstacle stands in the effective political capacity of the future ruling class and in the absence today of charismatic leaders on the scene, most of them simply being tribal chiefs.

Both scholars agreed that the future developments of the Libyan crisis will have a direct effect also on the relations between Libya and other world nations.

According to Varvelli, the historical friendship between Libya and Italy will never be as strong as when Gaddafi was in power, while according to Silvestri their geographic vicinity will keep the two countries closely bound together as always.

Silvestri believed that economic ties between Italy and Libya are set to remain solid because of reciprocal interests.

"Relaunching gas exports to Italy is the motor which will set in motion the Libyan economic recovery. The gas supply to Italy has been closed since February and both countries have an interest in reopening it," he observed.

But Italy will now face growing competition from other European nations in leading ties with Libya, he added.

Silvestri warned the risk that Libyan soil might turn out to be terrain for clashes between European nations, hoping the international conference in Paris will help prevent the rise of contrasts.

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