[What follows is the text of a Reuters news agency report published on this date sixteen years ago:]
Libya fears the two men accused of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing could be assassinated if they go to the Netherlands for trial, the spokesman for British relatives of the victims said on Wednesday.
Jim Swire, who had just returned from a visit to Tripoli where he met Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the suspects' legal team, said he felt the fears were real and were not just a stalling manoeuvre. Swire said that if the matter could be cleared up, the trial could begin within weeks.
Libya has criticised a plan by Britain and the United States under which the two men would be tried before three Scottish judges in the Netherlands. The proposal was intended to end a prolonged impasse over Libya's refusal to hand over the men for trial either in the United States or Britain.
“There are real worries...that the lives of these men are at risk,” Swire told a meeting at a conference of Britain's minority Liberal Democrats in Brighton, southern England. He later told reporters the Libyans' fears related primarily to the US Central Intelligence Agency, although defence lawyers were also worried about the possibility of attempts on their clients' lives by Iranian or Syrian agents.
Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats conference in Brighton, Dr Swire, a spokesman for UK Families Flight 103, said: "There are structures in this wicked world that don't want this trial happening and one way to stop that happening might be to kill these two."
Asked who was the most likely to carry out such an attack, he said: "The most obvious sources would be structures inside the US. It would be a convenient way of blocking other forms of investigation." He agreed it was "quite possible" that the Syrians or Iranians, who were blamed very soon after the 1989 bombing for funding and ordering the atrocity, could also attempt such an attack.
Swire travelled on Saturday to Tripoli along with Robert Black, a professor who pioneered the idea that the trial should take place under Scottish law in the Hague out of deference to Libyan objections to it being held in Scotland.
Swire said he and Black held talks with lawyers for the two Libyans, Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, and with the Libyan foreign ministry as well as with Gaddafi. Libya announced on Wednesday that it had subsequently replaced the defence lawyers.
“The objections (the Libyans drew) to our attention...were really sensible objections which require to be sorted out in a satisfactory manner, and not delaying tactics,” Swire said. He said he had discovered that the US air force still had the right to use the Dutch air base to which it was proposed to fly the two suspects. Swire based his optimism that a trial could still be imminent on proposals that he said Black had just sent to the United Nations to speed up negotiations on outstanding issues.
“If this (Black's proposal) is accepted, I think there is no reason why we should not be looking at weeks,” he said, declining to give details.