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Libya welcomes back tourists after being closed for decades due to war

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Libya has hosted its first group of foreign tourists in a decade, with an excursion to an oasis town deep in the desert previously off-limits to visitors due to years of war.

French traveler Jean-Paul, who first visited Libya more than a decade ago, was among some 100 mostly European tourists on the trip. He said he had long wanted to return to the “magnificent country, with extraordinary scenery and very welcoming people”.

“Events meant for 10 years that wasn’t possible — then we were told we could finally come back on a supervised trip, with a security detail,” the 57-year-old said. “People here are very welcoming and you get the feeling that Libyans really want to see tourists again.”

Libya had been largely a no-go area to tourists throughout the four-decade rule of Moamer Kadhafi. When Kadhafi was overthrown in a 2011 uprising, foreign visitors mostly continued to stay away as the country struggled with conflict and lawlessness. Today, thanks to a year of relative calm following an October 2020 ceasefire and a United Nations-led peace process, the first group of tourists since 2012 were able to visit, on a tour paid for by the state.

Tour guide Ali al-Kouba says he wants to “break the wall of fear” for foreigners wanting to visit the vast Libyan Sahara. Italian traveler and tour operator Giovanni Paolo, who wore a Tuareg-style yellow scarf against the desert wind, agreed. “We were sure we’d be welcome in this wonderful country,” he said.

The visitors arrived via a border crossing with Tunisia which had opened in September after months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. They spent a night under the stars before heading deep into the dunes and rocky stretches of the southern Libyan wilderness.

Khaled Derdera, who organized the tour, said he wanted to challenge the idea that Libya is “a country in decline”. “The idea of the trip was to bring back European tourists — and today, here they are, on Libyan soil,” he said.

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