Monday, 1 February 2016

Libya may compensate Lockerbie families

[This is the headline over a report published on the website of The Guardian on this date in 2001, the day after the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi and the acquittal of Lamin Fhimah. It reads as follows:]

The Libyan government is today considering compensation payments to the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing, as a group representing the British families of those who died in the tragedy gathered in London to press for an independent public inquiry.

The Libyan ambassador to London, Mohammed al-Zwai, said today that his government will consider both compensation payments and agreements reached with the UN security council if Abdel Baset al-Megrahi's appeal against his conviction for the bombing fails. The security council agreements include the requirement that Libya offer compensation and accept responsibility for the bombing.

Megrahi, a Libyan citizen, was sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment for the murder of 270 people in the 1988 bomb attack on Pan Am flight 103. Scottish judges accepted that he was a special agent for the Libyan government, thereby implicating Tripoli in the attack. According to Libyan television reports, Megrahi will lodge an appeal against his conviction within 14 days.

Mr Zwai's comments seem to contradict statements out of Tripoli that the Libyan government bears no responsibility for the bombing. Libyan foreign minister Abdel Rahman Shalgam has insisted that Tripoli will never accept responsibility for the attack.

Colonel Muammar Gadafy's government has not been indicted in the bombing, but the Lockerbie blast was alleged to have been committed to "further the purposes" of Libyan intelligence. The prosecution has charged that the attack was carried out to avenge the US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986.

Following the verdict, Libya called for an end to the UN sanctions imposed after the Lockerbie bombing.

"The sanctions imposed on Libya must be lifted completely because the Lockerbie case was used as a pretext to delay their lifting," foreign ministry spokesman Hassouna Chiouch told a news conference. "Now that the court has ended the case, the sanctions must be lifted completely."

"We extend our hand to the United States to build relations based on mutual respect and benefit for the two parties," Chiouch said. "Now that the Lockerbie case is behind, we look forward with interest to improving our relations with the United States in the interests of both countries and of peace worldwide."

Foreign secretary Robin Cook said Britain and the United States both agreed Libya "must" fulfil the UN security council resolutions before the sanctions will be lifted. Mr Cook stressed that Libya is barred from offering "no fault" compensation.

"Libya has in the past said it would pay compensation if there was a guilty verdict. There has been a guilty verdict, and a guilty verdict against a very senior official of Libyan intelligence," said Mr Cook.

"Libya can't walk away from their responsibility for the act of their official," he added.

In Washington, President George Bush praised the conviction and said the Libyan government must take responsibility for the attack. After less than two weeks in office, the Bush administration faces a major foreign policy decision on how hard to squeeze Libya.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher laid down four demands with which the United States said Libya must comply.

"That means revealing everything they know about the Lockerbie bombing, paying reparations, a clear declaration acknowledging responsibility for the actions of the Libyan officials and clear unambiguous actions which demonstrate the Libyan government understands its responsibilities," Mr Boucher said.

Meanwhile, the British families of those who died in the Lockerbie bombing are gathering in London today to press for further inquiries into the disaster. The group, which includes high profile campaigners Dr Jim Swire and the Rev John Mosey, will call for an independent public inquiry into unanswered questions surrounding the circumstances of the bombing.

The families have always maintained they want a public inquiry into issues not fully explored in the Fatal Accident Inquiry which was completed in 1991 or in the criminal trial which ended yesterday.

Most crucially, they want the failure of the intelligence services and the aviation authorities to stop the bomb getting on board to come under the spotlight.

Several bomb warnings were circulating at the time of the disaster including the so-called 'Toshiba warning' which advised that a bomb hidden inside a radio cassette recorder could be smuggled on to a plane. The bomb which blew up the Pan Am flight was hidden inside a Toshiba radio cassette recorder.

Previous calls for a public inquiry have been rejected on the grounds that such a move would prejudice the long-awaited criminal trial. Now that the trial is finally over, the families will argue that there are no grounds for rejecting a public inquiry.

Scotland's top law officer said today that insufficient evidence exists at this time for more prosecutions over the Lockerbie bombing. Colin Boyd QC, the Lord Advocate, added that it is clear that the man convicted yesterday for the outrage was not acting alone.

Following the announcement of the verdict yesterday, Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah, Megrahi's co-accused who was acquitted, left the court at Camp Zeist, a former US military base in the Netherlands, a free man.

Taken to a safe house last night, he was expected to leave the Netherlands for home today. The time and place of his departure are closely guarded secrets. Megrahi remained in the specially built prison where he and Fhimah had been held since Tripoli handed them over in April 1999.

An official source said Megrahi's mother had been taken to a Tripoli hospital after collapsing, overwhelmed by news that her son had been jailed for life.

An appeal would be heard at Camp Zeist, except in the highly unlikely event Megrahi chose not to be present - in which case it would be held in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.

And under the terms of the groundbreaking deal under which the Libyans were brought for trial, Megrahi stays at the camp until the entire legal process is complete.

Any appeal would take months to get under way, legal experts say. There is no automatic right of appeal in Scottish law, and that alone complicates and delays the process significantly.

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