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Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1999 15:47:13 -0600 (CST)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: LIBYA: Lockerbie Judgment Looms—Or Does It?
Article: 56710
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.2348.19990307061516@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 533.0 **/
** Topic: POLITICS-LIBYA: Lockerbie Judgment Looms—Or Does It? **
** Written 3:06 PM Mar 4, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Lockerbie Judgement Looms—or does it?

Analysis by Farhan Haq, IPS, 1 March 1999

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 1 (IPS)—After more than six months of haggling, the United Nations and the United States are running out of patience with Libya’s sluggish response to a proposed trial of two Libyan bombing suspects.

Despite U.S. and British threats of tougher sanctions, Libya, Tripoli still appeared unwilling to extradite Abdel Basset al- Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah to stand trial in the Netherlands for the 1988 bombing of Pan American flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

With the UN Security Council over the question of invoking UN sanctions in general—the question the United Nations faced this week was to devise a strategy to prod Tripoli to deliver a decision.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who stepped up negotiations with Libya and mediators from Saudi Arabia and South Africa last week, said Friday he was reasonably optimistic that we will have a breakthrough soon.

The United States, however, tried unsuccessfully to pinpoint a time frame. The secretary-general has made it clear that the ball is in Libya’s court, U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh said. The time for procrastination is over.

Burleigh said the U.S. adminstration was holding Tripoli to a 30-day timetable by which it must deliver a decision on whether to hand al-Megrahi and Fhimah over to trial. If it refused to do so, Washington would expand the current UN air travel ban on Libya and sanctions on oil-related machinery to include tougher measures, including a possible oil embargo.

Yet talk of pushing a harsher embargo won little support among the 15 Council member states. Several members, including Russia, China and the Council’s three African states— Gabon, Gambia and Namibia—were wary of imposing additional penalties.

Washington was unable even to discuss the possibility of a 30- day deadline during the Council’s debate Friday, and Canadian Ambassador Robert Fowler, who presided over the Council last month, asserted, No changes to the sanctions regime were discussed.

As a result, Libyan Ambassador Abuzed Omar Dorda shrugged off speculation that Tripoli must deliver its decision on the suspects quickly. There is no deadline, he said.

Nevertheless, all sides agreed time was running out for the Libyan government to deliver its final response to the offer of a Netherlands trial, after months of assurances from UN officials and other mediators about the proposal.

We have been at this for a while, and quite a lot of governments have gone out to do whatever they can do to press the Libyan authorities to do this, Annan said. I think they have all the explanations and clarifications that are required.

UN officials, including legal advisor Hans Corell, have negotiated with the Libyans to alleviate their worries that UN sanctions would be lifted promptly once the two suspects were handed over for trial.

Meanwhile, other envoys—including Saudi Arabia’s Washington ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan, and South African envoy Jakes Gerwel—tried to assure Libyan leader Col Muammar Khadafi’s government that Washington and London could be trusted to ease the pressure on Tripoli if the trial went ahead.

Libya still had a number of concerns about a Netherlands trial - which would be held under special procedures allowing a Scottish judge and jury to preside—but seemingly had backed down on a few of them following the international mediation.

Initially, Tripoli resisted allowing any trial which would compel the suspects to be jailed in Scotland, and not Libya, if they were found guilty. But UN officials reportedly promised that UN monitors would ensure their safety if they were placed under Scottish custody.

Meanwhile, sources here said other mediators had assured Qaddafi that any trial would focus on the guilt or innocence of al- Megrahi and Fhimah, and not be used to implicate any higher-level Libyan officials in the bombing. But Washington and London had not made clear whether they favour any such step.

Several U.S. officials recently warned the United Nations and other envoys not to deliver mixed messages to Tripoli. But that warning may simply have reflected Washington’s concern that the families of the Lockerbie victims, many of whom were U.S. nationals, were outraged by rumours of further assurances for the Libyans.

Some U.S. officials said privately that the complaints by the victims families could jeopardise the progress made toward holding a trial.

Annan has voiced support for all the mediation efforts, and predicted, We are now at a critical and delicate stage, and I hope that we don’t have much more to go.

UN officials believed Khadafi was frustrated by the sanctions, and is more willing than ever to allow a trial—particularly one developed on terms first proposed by the Organisation of African Unity.

But the trial proposal remained anything but a sure thing, with the mutual distrust between Libya and the United States ensuring that any decision would be made as late as possible.