BELGRADE -- A private Serbian university that awarded an honorary doctorate to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi said it will not revoke the degree because it was given for scientific reasons, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.
Mica Jovanovic, the dean of Belgrade's Megatrend University, told RFE/RL on March 2 that politics played no part in the school's decision to honor Qaddafi four years ago.
Jovanovic said Qaddafi -- who has been accused of human rights violations in suppressing an ongoing popular uprising -- earned the doctorate because of Libya's "Great Manmade River," the largest irrigation project in the world.
Started in 1984 and projected to cost about $25 billion, it pumps water from 1,300 wells -- most of them more than 500 meters deep in the Sahara Desert -- and supplies Tripoli, Benghazi, and other cities and towns in Libya through a network of pipes and aqueducts.
"There is not a single reason for the university to withdraw its decision about the honorary doctorate for Qaddafi," Jovanovic said.
He added that a student exchange with a Libyan university was another reason behind the decision to honor Qaddafi.
"It is about establishing links with the state university in Tripoli and their students coming to our university," he said. "That cooperation did well in getting started but has stopped now because of some personnel changes in the Libyan Embassy [in Belgrade]."
But Srbijanka Turajlic, Serbia's deputy minister for higher education, said there is no doubt that politics motivated Megatrend University to award Qaddafi the doctorate.
"Keeping in mind how these doctorates are often awarded, this is not something this university should be proud of," Turajlic said. "But considering the quality of the university, it is not surprising that it awarded a doctorate to a dictator."
After the breakup of Yugoslavia -- one of the leaders of the nonaligned movement of countries in which Libya also was active -- Qaddafi remained a rare friend of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s.
Since then, Serbia has maintained close ties with Qaddafi and Libya, especially in the defense, construction, and engineering sectors.
The Serbian government has been criticized at home for failing to join in the worldwide condemnation of the suppression by Qaddafi's forces of the popular uprising, a crackdown that has led to hundreds of deaths and forced tens of thousands to flee the country.