Italy: Purging Libya ex-officials would be mistake

September 4, 2011 - 3:30 AM
Poland EU Diplomacy

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini arrives for the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Sopot, Poland, Friday, Sept. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

CERNOBBIO, Italy (AP) — The West must not repeat the same mistake in Libya as it did in Iraq, Italy's foreign minister said Sunday, warning against a full-scale purging of military officials and bureaucrats from Moammar Gadhafi's authoritarian regime.

"Why destroy all the structure, all the apparatus in Libya like we have done in Iraq, making a big mistake," Franco Frattini told reporters at an economics forum in the Lake Como resort town of Cernobbio. "We shouldn't multiply, we shouldn't double this mistake."

Frattini, whose country kept strong economic and diplomatic ties with Gadhafi's regime, suggested that lessons be learned from the period in Iraq after the U.S.-led war drove Saddam Hussein from power. He was referring to the wide-scale purging of Iraqi soldiers and bureaucrats. Militant extremists quickly capitalized on the resulting discontent and power vacuum.

But Frattini also warned against possible infiltration by extremists in the future government of Libya, after rebels, aided by NATO's airstrikes, ended Gadhafi's 42 years of iron-fisted rule.

"A very important point is to eradicate any kind of infiltration of extremist organizations into the structure of government of the future Libya," said the minister, who throughout the rebellion consulted frequently with the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council.

The council's leadership was also in regular contact early on with officials of Italian energy company Eni SpA, which for decades has had natural gas and oil operations in Libya, Frattini said.

"The rebels in Benghazi immediately understood that Eni would have been a reliable partner" in a post-Gadhafi Libya, Frattini said.

Members of an Eni technical team in Libya are "exploring the fastest way to restore ... the oil and gas production" there," Frattini added.

Eni said last week it is too soon to say when oil production could resume from Libya, but its CEO Paolo Scaroni has set a target date of mid-October for natural gas delivery from its Greenstream pipeline operation, in time for winter use by Italian consumers. Libya is one of Italy's main sources of energy.