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Libya elected to UN Security Council

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From correspondents in the United Nations | October 17, 2007

LIBYA, once a pariah of the West, took a giant stride back to global respectability when it was elected along with four other countries overnight to a two-year term on the United Nations Security Council.


The United States, which had used its influence to foil previous Libyan attempts in 1995 and 2000 to win a coveted seat on the powerful council, took no similar action this year, diplomats from other countries said.


Libya, Vietnam and the West African state of Burkina Faso easily obtained a two-thirds majority after being endorsed by regional groupings to stand unopposed for the three non-permanent seats available for African and Asian nations.


Also elected for terms starting on January 1 were Croatia, which defeated the Czech Republic in a contested race for an East European seat, and Costa Rica, which beat off a challenge from the Dominican Republic for a Latin American place.


At stake, like every year, were five of the 10 non-permanent seats on the 15-nation council, the powerhouse of the United Nations with the ability to send peacekeeping troops around the world and impose sanctions on specific countries.


Unlike the five permanent members - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - the nonpermanent members have no individual veto. But an alliance of seven of them can stop a resolution even if the big powers want it.


Libya has only recently rehabilitated itself in Western eyes from the country that once allegedly sponsored terrorist groups and organised the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland that cost 270 lives.


The case led to UN sanctions on Libya, which, under a gradual shift of course by leader Muammar Gaddafi, eventually turned over suspects and admitted civil responsibility. Also key was Gaddafi's 2003 decision to abandon weapons of mass destruction programs.


Just three months ago, Libya ended a diplomatic standoff by freeing five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor held since 1999 on charges, which Western countries ridiculed, that they infected Libyan children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.


Voting figures showed that 12 states did not vote for Libya. US Deputy UN Ambassador Alejandro Wolff declined to say how he had voted, telling reporters only: "We look forward to working with all new members that are elected."


But he said: "I noticed that there were (Pan Am 103) family members ... in the room, and I know others were watching. Their presence was felt here today. I felt it and I know other delegations felt it."


Libyan Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi said: "I think our relations with the United States nowadays - they are back to normal," adding that the Pan Am affair was "behind us".


But Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter died in the bombing, said the election of Libya, which previously sat on the council from 1976-77, showed a US policy of appeasement.


"I feel as if America has completely capitulated on this. Gaddafi has more blood on his hands than any surviving dictator," Ms Cohen said.


The contest between Croatia, a former Yugoslav republic never on the council before, and the Czech Republic, which served from 1994-95, had been expected to be close, although diplomats had given the edge to the Czechs.


In the first ballot, Croatia took a lead of just four votes. In the second that widened to 25, at which point the Czech Republic pulled out, as did the Dominican Republic, losing by an even wider margin to Costa Rica.


Some officials suggested a speech by Czech President Vaclav Klaus to a September 24 UN conference questioning whether climate change was man-made could have lost votes. Others blamed the fact that Slovakia, once part of one country with the Czech Republic, has been on the council for the past two years.


Costa Rica, by contrast, quickly took a strong lead over the Dominican Republic. Costa Rica has sat on the council twice before, while the Dominican Republic never has.


The withdrawal of the Czech Republic and Dominican Republic drew applause from the assembly and relief that there would be no repeat of last year's Latin American epic between Venezuela and US-backed Guatemala. That went to 47 rounds of balloting over three weeks before Panama was elected as a compromise.


Countries that will leave the Security Council on December 31 are Congo Republic, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and Slovakia. Remaining on it are Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa.

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