India to energise ties with Libya


New Delhi : External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee begins a three-day visit to Libya Saturday to forge closer economic partnership with a country rich in oil and enjoying a booming economy.

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Mukherjee, who will fly to Tripoli from Cyprus, goes to a radically transformed North African state since the last high-level visit from India 22 years ago when then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi went there.

Once a pariah in Western eyes, Muammar Gaddafi has transformed Libya as a friend of the US and Europe by renouncing terrorism and dismantling his programmes to develop nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Washington removed sanctions on doing business with Libya in 2004 and removed it from its list of terrorism sponsors last year.

Mukherjee's thrust in Libya would be on consolidating the already burgeoning ties in the energy sector and expanding cooperation in education, infrastructure and IT.

He will meet his Libyan counterpart Abdul Rahman Shalgem and discuss an array of bilateral, regional and global issues. He will also call on Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi.

"The visit will attempt to fabricate a framework, enabling the elevation of our bilateral exchanges to move with the times where technology and training can bring greater benefits to both countries," the external affairs ministry said.

Indian companies have significant presence in the Libyan energy, hydrocarbon, power and IT sectors. These linkages have increased in the last three years.

Libya is also keen to draw upon India's expertise in the small and medium enterprises sector, which can be harnessed to boost economic reform process and entrepreneurship training in that country.

Mukherjee's visit takes place four months after Petroleum Minister Murli Deora visited Tripoli and discussed India's interest in revamping oil refineries in Libya.

Indian oil companies have already won exploration licence for six oil blocks in Libya. The two sides also discussed specific areas of cooperation.

Libya also showed keen interest in tapping the Indian experience in implementing city gas projects in New Delhi and Mumbai. India offered assistance to set up such projects in Libya.