BEIRUT (AFP) – Several thousand people joined a rally in Lebanon on Sunday to mark 30 years since Shiite leader Mussa Sadr vanished without trace in Libya, with the circumstances of his disappearance as mysterious as ever. Sadr, who founded the opposition Amal movement now led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berre would have been 80 this year and is still regarded by the Lebanese Shiite community as their key spiritual guide. Lebanon last week issued an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi over the disappearance of the imam on August 31, 1978 while he was in Tripoli with two companions, who vanished with him. "We tell the leader of the Libyan regime Moamer Kadhafi: you are personally responsible for the disappearance of Imam Mussa Sadr," Berri said in a speech to the crowds in the southern town of Nabatiyeh."Let no-one think that we will forget or make any compromise," said Berri, a leading figure in the Syrian-backed opposition in Lebanon spearheaded by the powerful Hezbollah movement. Libya has denied involvement in Sadr’s disappearance, saying he left Libya for Italy. But the Italian government has always denied he ever arrived there. However, in 2004 Italian authorities returned a passport found in Italy belonging to the imam.

Sunday marked 30 years since the disappearance of Imam Musa al-Sadr, a Lebanese icon who put his country’s Shiite community on the road to sociopolitical revival long before the 1979 Islamic Revolution In Iran brought a more radical flavor to the phenomenon on the regional level. The details of Sadr’s fate remain a mystery, but all signs point to the government of Libya, which is the last place where he was seen alive. Tripoli has staunchly – but not very convincingly – denied any involvement, preventing the two countries from improving their bilateral relationship and foiling any form of "closure" to many Lebanese Shiites who still believe that their hero continues to languish in captivity. As it happens, the anniversary followed just a day after visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi performed a remarkable act of contrition in Benghazi, apologizing to all Libyans for his own country’s colonial-era atrocities and pledging billions of dollars in investment as a mechanism of indirect compensation. But Moammar Gadhafi’s regime need not look to Rome for an example of how to properly turn the page: In the past few years, his own government has closed several embarrassing files, including its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and the involvement of its intelligence officers in the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing.  Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hizbullah, has invited the Libyans to come clean on Sadr’s disappearance as well, and Tripoli could do itself a favor by accepting it. As demonstrated by last week’s filing of charges against Gadhafi by a Lebanese prosecutor, this issue will not go away – particularly when Hizbullah and Amal, two Shiite parties that form a large part of Sadr’s legacy, remain in ascendance.

Unlike major Western powers, Lebanon can neither force Libyan cooperation by imposing sanctions nor cajole it by bestowing rewards. What it can offer, though, is partnership in furthering the goal of Arab unity that Gadhafi has long professed to champion. Disputes like that between and Lebanon and Libya are the rule, not the exception, in this part of the world. The price is borne by all Arabs, whose leaders’ inability to act in concert has served repeatedly to exacerbate crises and to fritter away opportunities. We subject visitors from neighboring countries to onerous restrictions, even while those from Western nations come and go as they please. It is no surprise, then, that the Middle East’s trade and investment flows are so heavily weighted toward other regions, passing over countless opportunities closer to home and forcing indigenous start-ups to get their capital from abroad.

Lebanon and Libya could help reverse this trend by burying the hatchet, but that cannot happen unless and until the latter regains the former’s trust by doing all it can to right a historic wrong.