Fri Dec 17, 2010
TRIPOLI (AFP) – The decision of a foundation run by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's son to bow out of politics spells a setback for reform in the country and for its image on the diplomatic front, analysts say.
A decade after it burst onto the world stage by negotiating the release of Western hostages held by Philippine Islamists, the Kadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation marked a sharp change of tack on Wednesday when it announced it would "no longer include advocacy for political and human rights reform among its activities."
Instead, it would be "redoubling efforts to fulfil its core charitable mission of delivering aid and relief to disadvantaged populations, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa."
Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam defended the change.
"I am confident that this shift will allow us to direct our efforts in the most important areas in which we work, improving people's lives in some of the poorest areas on Earth," he said.
Although he holds no official post, Seif al-Islam led a project to modernise the government, though without questioning the leader's power or the regime's basic principles.
Regularly presented as his father's successor, he has cast doubt on his future, especially as his reform programme has suffered setbacks since 2009, mostly on press freedom.
Mohammed Allagui, the former head of a human rights group which depends on the charity, said the charity's activities should be kept "within Libya, instead of looking abroad."
The rights group had distinguished itself by issuing reports highly critical of the Libyan authorities.
However, a charity official told AFP the association "will not disappear but will be separated from the Foundation," although it is unclear how it could keep operating without supervision.
Founded in 1997, the Kadhafi Foundation made a name for itself three years later when it helped mediate the release of 11 Western hostages held in the Philippines by Abu Sayyaf, a militant group linked to Al-Qaeda.
Then in 2007, its reputation was further enhanced when it was at the heart of complex negotiations that led to Libya's release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of infecting hundreds of children with HIV.
Seif al-Islam also negotiated agreements for compensation to the families of victims in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people, and a similar attack on a UTA airliner in 1989.
But his advocacy of reform faced a mounting backlash from conservatives.
The Foundation said its trustees had criticised its campaigning on some international issues which had sparked controversy in Israel and the United States as being too overtly political.
It singled out the controversial release on compassionate grounds last year of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, and efforts to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Nevertheless, the conservatives have applauded the Foundation's role in resolving various disputes with the West.
Boukhzam Ibrahim, former minister of the old guard, said he was "against a total abandonment by the foundation of its political activities," insisting this would be "a mistake."
Ibrahim said he felt the organisation's role was "very useful and compelling" at the diplomatic level. "It has built a network of international relations that is very important and difficult to replace.
"It is a great loss to Libya," he said.