The Associated Press February 19, 2010, 2:30PM ET

Report: Swiss, Libyan top diplomats meet on visas

A top Swiss diplomat has met his Libyan and German counterparts in Berlin to resolve a diplomatic row over visa suspensions, Swiss media reported Friday.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said it is "working on a solution" to the visa spat that has resulted in high-ranking Libyans being barred from traveling to Europe and citizens from 25 European nations from visiting Libya.

Ministry spokesman Adrian Sollberger declined to elaborate, citing the sensitivity of the negotiations.

Swiss radio SF1 reported that Permanent Secretary Michael Ambuehl arrived at the German Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon.

The German government refused to confirm the meeting, insisting that the European Union, not individual member states, would handle such negotiations.

Friday's reported meeting came a day after Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey held talks with her Libyan counterpart Moussa Koussa in Spain on the issue.

The dispute began in July 2008 when Swiss police arrested Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son, Hannibal, in Geneva on suspicion of beating his servants in a luxury hotel.

Days after the arrest, Libya in apparent retaliation detained two Swiss businessmen for alleged visa violations. Rachid Hamdani and Max Goeldi were subsequently returned to the Swiss embassy in Tripoli but have since been prevented from leaving the country. Libya also withdrew most of its money from Swiss bank accounts.

A Libyan court acquitted Hamdani earlier this month. The Swiss-Tunisian national has received back his passport but has yet to get an exit visa before he can return home, said Amnesty International.

The campaign group and the United Nations have criticized the detention of the two businessmen as a form of political revenge.

In response, Switzerland suspended a deal aimed at improving bilateral relations and initiated a visa blacklist that included Gadhafi and his family.

That has drawn the rest of Europe into the dispute because a travel ban from one member of the continent's passport-free Schengen agreement is binding on all. Libyan visas issued to citizens of Schengen countries are no longer being treated as valid, European governments said.


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