Monday, 14 September 2015

The Arab League and Lockerbie

[What follows is the text of a Reuters news agency report published on this date in 1998:]

Arab League foreign ministers are expected to throw their diplomatic weight behind Libya this week in their first meeting since Britain and the United States agreed to hold the Lockerbie trial in a neutral country.

“The Lockerbie issue is on the front burner,” said an Arab official of the two days of talks starting on Wednesday.

“It is a priority based on the degree of attention which will be given not only in the official work of the council but on the sidelines as well.”

The Arab official said the Arab League was expected to call for clarification through UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

“The Libyans are worried Holland might be used as a conveyor belt,” he said. “There is already an environment of mistrust and the language of take-it-or-leave-it is not helpful.

“So the work of the League will focus on supporting Libya's legitimate rights to seek more clarification and guarantees. We believe this will strengthen the Libyan position,” he said.

In their last talks in March, the foreign ministers of the 22-member League renewed support for Libya's call for an end to the UN sanctions imposed on Libya after it refused to give up for trial the suspects in the bombing which killed 270 people.

But Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi apparently wants more than lip service this time.

On Sunday, the Libyan news agency said Libya had abolished its ministerial portfolio charged with promoting Arab unity and emphasised that Libya belonged to the African continent.

The last task for Libya's Unity Affairs Minister Jomaa al-Fezzani will be to attend this week's Arab League meeting. Diplomats saw the move as timed to pressure the Arab League into backing up words with deeds, as African states have done.

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in May called for an end to the sanctions and this month seven African leaders broke the embargo by flying into Libya without UN permission.

No Arab country has followed suit. Asked to comment, the Arab official said: “I would understand sometimes it's frustrating, but we are not competing with the OAU and Arabs cannot violate U.N. resolutions collectively. It should be decided country by country,” he said. “We have given strong collective diplomatic support to Libya.”

[And, exactly ten years later, from Wikipedia:]

On 14 September 2008, the Arab League Ministerial Council passed a resolution calling for the 'political hostage' Megrahi to be released from prison in Scotland. The resolution demanded that the Scottish government should hand to Megrahi's lawyers the documents which the SCCRC had identified, adding that Britain's refusal to do so represented a 'miscarriage of justice'. The Arab League also endorsed Libya's right to compensation for the damage done to its economy by UN sanctions which were in force from 1991 until 1999*.

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