African Union chairman Jean Ping seeks to turn the page with new Libya


The African Union wants to turn the page in its ties with Libya's new rulers, the head of the AU's executive arm said on Monday on his first visit to the country since the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi.

“What I told the authorities firstly is that the past is the past, no matter what happened. We must turn the page and look to the future,” AU commission chairman Jean Ping told AFP in an interview.

The AU only recognized Libya’s new leaders in September, after having failed to assert itself as a mediator in the conflict between rebels and Qaddafi, who had been a founder of the pan-African organization.

The rebels, who had the support of NATO, turned down AU appeals for dialogue with the Qaddafi regime, casting a cloud over relations between the bloc and Libya's National Transitional Council.

In the interview, Ping said he had come to Tripoli “to discuss with the authorities the future of the new Libya.”

“The previous regime had its methods, its resources, its own vision of relations with others. The new regime, I think, wants to have normal relations with its brothers and ordinary Africans.”

He noted that “Libya's relations with neighboring (African) countries were moving very quickly in the right direction,” adding that the AU had “helped to normalise these relations.”

Ping said that Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib, with whom he held talks on Monday, would take part in an AU summit scheduled for the end of the month in Addis Ababa.

The “king of the kings of Africa,” as Qaddafi liked to be called, was behind the creation of the African Union and led an aggressive campaign for the formation of a United States of Africa, which he dreamed of leading.

“When the AU was formed, two currents led the debate: Muammar Qaddafi’s vision on one side with a number of African countries which wanted to speed up this union; and some countries on the other which wanted to go gradually,” said Ping.

He added that he expects “the debate will continue” following the fall of Qaddafi, who was killed by rebels fighting in his hometown of Sirte on October 20.

“The difference is that the debate will not be influenced by someone like Qaddafi, who wanted to force through his vision.”

Ping sought to play down the influence of the Qaddafi regime in the African Union, including in financing, stressing that Libya was never the main source of funding for the bloc.

“This is a serious mistake everyone makes, especially Westerners,” said the AU chief.

“There are five major contributors (to the AU budget) which pay the same (about 15 percent): Libya, but also Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa,” he said, adding the remaining 25 percent was shared among other members.

“Sometimes Qaddafi’s Libya held back its contribution and did not pay,” he said, adding that Tripoli has not provided its share for 2010 and 2011, but only as a way to press for certain projects.

Ping said that Qaddafi’s active role in Africa gave people a “false impression” of his investments in the continent.

“He set up a fund of $5 billion, which is not negligible. But we must not forget that the vast wealth of Libya... $150 billion was invested in Europe,” he said.

“If the new authorities and the Libyan people want to complain that their money was invested outside the country, the first beneficiaries were Westerners.”