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Italy's colonial apology smacks of self interest

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

Silvio Burlusconi's appearance with Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi over the weekend seemed to be a historic first: the Italian prime minister formally apologized and agreed to offer financial compensation for decades of colonial occupation. An elaborate ceremony -- complete with the repatriation of an ancient statue of Venus that had been relocated to Rome -- marked the signing of a "friendship and cooperation agreement" between the two countries.

Yet it wasn't a completely altruistic measure for the Italians, who stand to benefit from their "reparations" to the former colony:

“We have written a page in history. Now we will have fewer illegal immigrants leaving from the coast of Libya and coming to us, and more Libyan oil and gas,” declared Mr Berlusconi, according to Italian reports

Indeed, the $5 billion Italy will pay in annual installments of $200 million will largely come in the form of investments in Libyan infrastructure. While the agreement marks the first time a former colonial power offered compensation to an Arab country, special economic ties between former colonies and mother countries are, of course, nothing new.

The question now is whether Italy will follow suit with its other, less resource-rich, former colonies like Ethiopia and Eritrea.

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