BENGHAZI, Libya, (Reuters) – Libya and Italy signed an accord on Saturday under which Italy will pay billions of dollars in compensation and investments for colonial misdeeds during its decades-long rule of the North African country. “This accord opens the door to the future cooperation and partnership between Italy and Libya,” Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said at the signing ceremony at a palace which was once the headquarters of the Rome government’s senior official during the 1911-1943 colonial rule.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the accord ends “40 years of misunderstanding”, adding that “it is a complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era”.
Italy has had difficult relations with Gaddafi since he took power in 1969 but has backed Tripoli’s recent drive to mend fences with the West. The “friendship pact” removes a major hurdle to an improvement in ties.
Libya says Italian troops killed thousands of Libyans and drove thousands more from their villages and cities during the colonial era. “In this historic document, Italy apologises for its killing, destruction and repression against Libyans during the colonial rule,” Gaddafi said.
Present day Italy is a friendly country, added Gaddafi, who expelled Italian residents and confiscated their property in 1970.
Gaddafi gave no details of the amount of money involved in the deal but Berlusconi said on arrival that $200 million per year will be invested by Italy in Libya over 25 years. “Italian companies will set up more business in Libya,” Berlusconi said, without giving details.
Italian officials said earlier the deal covered “some billion dollars” in compensation and $5 billion in investments, including the construction of a highway across Libya from the Tunisian border to Egypt.
It also involves a project to clear mines dating back to the colonial era.
Italy expects in return to win energy contracts and for the Tripoli government to toughen security measures to stem the flow of illegal migrants, including joint maritime patrols.
In a goodwill gesture on Saturday, Italy returned an ancient statue of Venus taken to Rome during colonial rule, Libyan state media reported.
The headless “Venus of Cyrene” was carried away from the town of Cyrene, an ancient Greek colony, by Italian troops and put on display in Rome.
Tripoli’s relations with the West have improved dramatically since 2003 when Libya accepted responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Libya has also said it would stop pursuing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
On Aug. 14 Libya signed a deal with the United States to settle both countries’ claims for compensation for bombings.