Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Libyan PM denies Tripoli involved in Lockerbie

[This is the headline over a Reuters news agency report published on this date in 2004. It reads in part:]

Libyan Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem has denied his country's guilt in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people and says Tripoli has only agreed to pay damages to victims in order to "buy peace".

In comments which appear directly to contradict recent more conciliatory moves by Tripoli, Ghanem said Libya had refused to apologise for the attack because that was not part of the deal.

"We reached an agreement in which we feel that we bought peace," he told BBC radio in an interview on Tuesday.

In a deal reached after years of negotiations, Libya last year agreed to pay $2.7 billion (1.4 billion pounds) in compensation for Lockerbie victims -- many of whom were Britons and Americans travelling on Pan Am flight 103 when it was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

In response, United Nations Security Council voted in September to lift sanctions on Libya, first imposed in 1992.

Ghanem said the pressure of years of US and United Nations sanctions against Libya, and a desire to "put the whole case behind us" had forced Libya to agree to compensation.

"After the problems we had faced because of the sanctions ... we thought it was easier for us to buy peace," he said.

Asked whether that meant Libya did not see the compensation payments as an admission of guilt for the bombing, he said: "I agree with that, and that is why I say we bought peace." (...)

Ghanem's comments threaten to sour relations between Tripoli and Britain and the U.S at a time when Libya had been making efforts to reintegrate into the international community.

In a dramatic move last December, Libya promised to abandon plans to develop atomic and other mass destruction weapons.

The British government played a key diplomatic role in securing December's weapons agreement, which has given a huge boost to Libya's efforts to end its international isolation.

Washington has yet to lift economic sanctions, including a ban on travel by US citizens to Libya, but it agreed in January to take "tangible steps" towards improving relations with Libya if it honoured its pledge to give up banned weapons.

Britain has moved faster than the United States to restore ties and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is planning landmark talks with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi later this year.

Ghanem said he did not yet know when Blair's visit would take place, but hoped it would be soon. "I hope that he will be coming -- the sooner, the better -- he will be most welcome here," he said. "I think he will enjoy coming to Libya and he will find friends here."

[A BBC News report on the same matter can be read here.]

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