Libya seeking to fiddle in Sth Pacific

Considering the vast distance between Libya and the South Pacific, it's hard to imagine it ever being a serious player in this part of the world.

Yet in the 1980s, driven by strongman Muammar Gaddafi's anti-imperialist world view, Libya sought to parlay oil cash into influence in a range of struggling Pacific Island nations.

Cabinet documents for 1988 and 1989 - released by the National Archives of Australia - show the government was quite concerned that a pariah nation and terrorist supporter was meddling in our part of the globe.

A submission prepared by the Office of National Assessments (ONA) and marked AUSTEO - Australian eyes only - argued Libya was principally interested in Vanuatu which had only gained independence from France and Britain in 1980.

Libya and Vanuatu established diplomatic relations in 1986, with Libya offering to train local police and security forces with an eye on a resident mission.

Libya was also interested in New Caledonia, where its ideology had some attractions for locals dissatisfied with French rule, and Fiji, where it offered to replace British aid following the 1987 coup.

In Australia, Gaddafi had his supporters on both the far right and far left.

They included Victorian Labor figure Bill Hartley and indigenous activist Michael Mansell who in 1987 attended Gaddafi's conference on peace and revolution in the Pacific.

Mr Mansell subsequently claimed Gaddafi's support for a separate Aboriginal nation.

Australian, New Zealand and US officials all saw great potential for mischief-making, with Libya using Pacific outposts to channel cash and arms to anti-government rebels in New Caledonia, PNG and Indonesia.

ONA's submission said Australia's diplomatic offensive had achieved considerable success in setting back Libyan activities in the South Pacific.

The Hawke government booted out the Libyan People's Bureau in Canberra in May 1987 while Australian diplomats sought to persuade Vanuatu politicians about their best interests.

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