Monday, 19 January 2015

Compensation negotiations following Lockerbie trial

[What follows is the text of a report published in The Independent on this date in 2002:]

Millions of dollars for bomb victims' families if Gaddafi accepts responsibility  

Relatives of the 270 people who died in the Lockerbie bombing stand to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in a secret deal being finalised by senior officials from Libya, Britain and the US. Senior Libyan officials met their British and American counterparts at the Foreign Office in London this month to discuss the deal, which would also see Tripoli accept general responsibility for the 1988 attack on Pan Am Flight 103, which killed all the passengers and crew and 11 people from the small Scottish border town. In return, the way would be opened for the north African country to resume oil deals worth billions of dollars. The negotiations are going on as Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence officer convicted last year of planting the bomb that destroyed the airliner, prepares for his appeal, due to start on Wednesday at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. His co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty.

"A meeting took place on 10 January to discuss Libya's response to the requirements set down by the UN Security Council," a Foreign Office spokesman said. "There are two requirements – that Libya accept responsibility for the actions of its officers and that it pay compensation to the families of the victims." The meeting was the latest in a series of three-way engagements that have taken place since Megrahi's conviction last year. One person with knowledge of what transpired at the most recent meeting said: "Libya wants to get out of the shadow of Lockerbie, and the only way it can do that is to accept responsibility." Underlining the importance of the 10 January meeting, all three countries sent officials of the highest level. The US was represented by William Burns, the assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, while a spokesman for the Libyan embassy in London said that a special negotiating team was dispatched from Tripoli. Britain said it sent a senior Foreign Office official.

It is not clear how much compensation will be paid. Dr Jim Swire, who leads the group of 31 bereaved British families, said the relatives had been asked that they keep private the sums being discussed but that the total would come to "many, many millions". (...) 

Dr Swire said the families supported the efforts to bring Libya back into the international arena. "Our view is that it would be unhelpful to look at Libya now as it was in the mid-1980s," said Dr Swire, whose daughter, Flora, died in the bombing. "We feel it would be more of a memorial to our loved ones if we can play a small part in [ensuring Libya does not return to the path of terrorism]." Glenn Johnson, the chairman of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, the group that represents the vast majority of the families of the 169 US victims, was also encouraged that Libya was taking part in the talks. "Over the last 13 years I have spent around $100,000, pursuing the case," said Mr Johnson, who lost his 21-year-old daughter, Beth, in the incident.

Libya, which has already regained diplomatic relations with Britain, has much to gain from a normalisation of relations with the US – most importantly, the resumption of oil deals worth billions of dollars. The US believes that Libya is no longer involved in terrorism and was heartened by Colonel Gaddafi's comments condemning the attacks of 11 September. The US imposed its own sanctions in 1986, after Libyan agents bombed a Berlin disco frequented by US soldiers, killing two of them. US President Ronald Reagan responded by bombing Tripoli. The UN sanctions, suspended in 1999 after Libya handed over the two Lockerbie suspects, were imposed in 1992. The UN requirement that Libya pay compensation is not dependent on the outcome of Megrahi's appeal. After last year's verdict, Mohammed Azwai, Libya's ambassador to Britain, said Tripoli would pay if the conviction was upheld. "After the appeal result, at that time we will speak about compensation. We will fulfil our duty to the Security Council."

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