BEIRUT: Lebanon and Libya have signed a memorandum of understanding under which Libyan authorities have promised further cooperation to resolve the case of the missing Imam Musa Sadr, a source familiar with the issue said Tuesday, with Speaker Nabih Berri calling it a “historic step.”
The development, which happened out of the public eye last month, came after Lebanon and Sadr’s family complained that Libyan authorities that came to power after Moammar Gadhafi’s fall in summer 2011 were not dealing with the matter seriously.
“Under this memorandum of understanding, Lebanon now has the right to be represented during the investigation,” said the source, a member of a committee Lebanon’s government formed in 2011 to follow up on Sadr’s case.
“Libyan authorities also promised full cooperation and to interrogate all [relevant] detainees they have,” the source, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, told The Daily Star.
A charismatic preacher who founded Lebanon’s Amal Movement and championed alleviating the socio-economic hardship and political marginalization being suffered by many Lebanese, Sadr went missing in Libya on Aug. 31, 1978, along with his two companions, Sheikh Mohammad Yaacoub and Journalist Abbas Badreddine.
Sadr was there on an official invitation by Gadhafi, and Lebanon held the late Libyan leader responsible for his disappearance, an accusation Tripoli consistently denied. The incident led to Lebanon and Libya severing ties.
In 2009, Lebanon indicted Gadhafi and 16 of his aides on charges of fomenting civil war and inciting sectarian tension in Lebanon.
The source said that Lebanon’s Ambassador to Libya Mohammad Skeini signed the agreement with Libyan authorities in March on the instructions of the Foreign Ministry.
The fall of Gadhafi’s regime in summer 2011 boosted hopes that the mystery would finally be solved, particularly after senior officials such as former head of Libyan intelligence Abdullah Sanusi and Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of the late Libyan leader, were detained by the new Libyan authorities.
However, pessimism surfaced again, with Sadr’s family complaining that Tripoli was not demonstrating enough dedication and transparency in the case.
The source said a Lebanese delegation visited Libya in February, one month before the inking of the deal, as part of its continuous efforts to push the case forward.
The source explained that under the agreement, Libyan authorities also vowed to protect Lebanese delegations that visit Libya to follow up on the probe, particularly Judge Hasan Shami, who is charged with coordinating with judicial authorities there.
The committee official hailed the deal as a “historic achievement.”
“It is an acknowledgement by Libya that it has a responsibility toward the issue. It also organizes efforts [to resolve the case], which serves the interest of the cause.”
The source said he was “cautiously optimistic” regarding the prospects of continuous cooperation with Libyan authorities, adding that his main concern was that a further deterioration in the security situation in the restive North African country would negatively affect the case.
After receiving a delegation from Sadr’s family, head of the Amal Movement Berri said in a statement over the weekend that the agreement was a “historic step” and that the development would give momentum to efforts to free Sadr and his two companions.
The speaker also praised Libya for its cooperation, while hoping that the agreement would be immediately implemented.
When contacted by The Daily Star, other officials said that they did not have permission to comment on the matter.
Skeini said that he could not remark on the matter without permission from Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.