Libya and Italy signed an accord on Saturday under which Italy will pay $5 billion in compensation for colonial misdeeds during its decades-long rule of the North African country, the AP reported.
"This accord opens the door to the future cooperation and partnership between Italy and Libya," Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said at the signing ceremony at a palace which was once the headquarters of the Rome government's senior official during the 1911-1943 colonial rule.
Italy has had difficult relations with Gaddafi since he took power in 1969 but has backed Tripoli's recent drive to mend fences with the West. The "friendship pact" removes a major hurdle to an improvement in ties.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the accord ends "40 years of misunderstanding," adding that "it is a complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era."
"In the name of the Italian people ... I feel the duty to apologize and show our pain for what happened many years ago and which affected many of your families," Berlusconi said, according to a text on the government's website.
Libya says Italian troops killed thousands of Libyans and drove thousands more from their villages and cities during the colonial era.
"In this historic document, Italy apologizes for its killing, destruction and repression against Libyans during the colonial rule," Gaddafi said.
Present day Italy is a friendly country, added Gaddafi, who expelled Italian residents and confiscated their property in 1970.
Gaddafi gave no details of the amount of money involved in the deal but Berlusconi said on arrival that $200 million per year will be invested by Italy in Libya over 25 years.
"Italian companies will set up more business in Libya," Berlusconi said, without giving details.