D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy is in Tripoli, Libya, this week at the invitation of the Libyan government and its leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi, the hosts of this year's meeting of the Organization of African Unity.
Fauntroy was invited to attend the OAU annual meeting in his capacity as head of the Congressional Black Caucus. Eldridge Spearman, Fauntroy's spokesman, said Fauntroy left Washington last Sunday, accompanied by one aide, and is due to return today.
Rep. William Gray (D-Pa.), who also was invited to attend the conference as the head of the caucus' foreign affairs committee, said he did not go because of conflicts in his schedule.
Gray said he and Fauntroy were aware that the conference would be held in Libya but said the meeting's location in a country with which the United States has no diplomatic relations and several recent disputes was not the reason for his decison not to attend.
"The Black Caucus doesn't make judgments about where the conference will held," said Gray.
Stephen Horblitt, an aide to Fauntroy, said the delegate had discussed going to Libya for the meeting and concluded there was no significance to attending the conference as an American official in that location.
"Obviously we were aware of the implications of the visit," said Horblitt, "but it does not imply any approval or support for their regime," which has been accused of supporting international terrorist activities.
"The congressman has been opposed to terrorist activity by any group of people," said Spearman. "He has always opposed persons involved in violent acts for political solutions whether in South Africa, the Middle East, Haiti or wherever."
Spearman said Fauntroy's visit to Libya is meant to increase communications between black Americans and Africans.
"The purpose is to listen and to dialogue with African brothers and get information and determine the Congressional Black Caucus policy for Africa that will be shaped at the black caucus weekend Sept. 17th." said Spearman. He said he does not know if Fauntroy will meet Qaddafi.
It could not be learned yesterday who is paying for Fauntroy's visit. Spearman, Fauntroy's spokesman, said he is not sure whether the Libyan government paid Fauntroy's air fare. Congressman Gray said he expected either to pay for the trip out of his own pocket or to have his expenses paid by Libya as the host government.
Francesta Farmer, executive director of the black caucus, said she did not know how Fauntroy's expenses had been paid.
Randall Robinson, the head of TransAfrica, a lobbying group, was the only American other than Fauntroy and Gray to receive an official invitation to this year's OAU meeting, according to Gray and to the caucus. Salih Abdul-Rahim, a legislative assistant to the group, said Robinson's fare was paid by TransAfrica.
"We were aware of the current Libyan/American situation and we did not want to get burned by that," he said.
According to the caucus, at least one former chairman of the group has gone to an OAU annual meeting. Rep. John Conyers (D--Mich.) went to the meeting last year in Kenya. The conference shifts sites among 51 African nations each year.
Qaddafi is scheduled to become president of the OAU this year but a dispute within the organization about the admission of a Saharan guerrilla movement has resulted in a boycott by some African leaders that delayed the meeting's opening yesterday because of lack of a quorum.