The picture Colonel Ghaddafi had pinned to his chest showed Omar Al Mokhtar, a Libyan hero, an iconic symbol of Libyan resistance against Italian occupation.The photo of the so called Lion of the Desert was taken in 1931 before he was hanged by his Italian masters. Italy pulled out of Libya in 1942 but not before it had massacred thousands of Libyans. Colonel Gaddaffi was keen to set the record straight and has said he is pleased the Italians have turned a page on their past. Indeed last year Italy paid billions of euros in reparations for the alleged misdeeds of colonial rule although Gaddaffi is keen to stress that was just an agreement…a piece of paper …and didn’t completely wipe out Italy’s debt to Libya. But colonial history aside the two countries are close. Close diplomatically and close in terms of trade. In return for 5 billion euros from Italy to build Libya infrastructure like motorways Italy has been guaranteed a favoured nation position with Libya. And Libya supplies 25 per cent of Italy’s oil and more than 30 per cent of its gas. The two countries are also tied by another issue: the tidal wave of African economic migrants. At least 37,000 leave the coast of Libya every year on illegal boats heading for Italy…the first stop on their way into Europe. 37000 is an official figure but it is likely to be many more. Libya claimed it didn’t have the resources to patrol its territorial waters. Not only did Italy make a gift of four patrol boats but the two countries came to an agreement for joint patrols in Libyan territorial waters.
Ties between Libya and Italy warm