Monday, 4 April 2016

Dignitaries invited to Libya to witness handover of suspects

[What follows is the text of a report (based on material from The Associated Press news agency) published on the CNN website on this date in 1999:]

Arab dignitaries have been invited by Libya to witness the handover of two suspects in the 1988 Pan Am bombing, a further sign their promised extradition is imminent, an Arab League official said Sunday.

However, in Libya, secrecy has surrounded the operation and officials contacted by telephone have refused to divulge details about the much anticipated handover.

Arab diplomats said on Saturday that Libyan leader Col Moammar Gadhafi has ordered the passports of the two suspects returned to them.

Ahmed Ben Heli, the Arab League's Assistant Secretary-General said his delegation would fly later Sunday to the Tunisian airport of Jerba, from where they would be driven to the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Representatives from six Arab countries also would attend the handover to a United Nations representative, he said.

"It is good news for the Libyans -- indeed, for all Arabs -- that this quandary is finally over," Ben Heli told The Associated Press before leaving Cairo, site of the League's headquarters.

The move followed reports that the chief UN legal counsel, Hans Corell, had left for Europe on Friday on his way to Libya to arrange for the handover.

Lamen Khalifa Fhimah and Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi are to be tried under Scottish law in the Netherlands.

The December 21, 1988, bombing of the Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people -- mostly Americans and Britons -- in the air and on the ground.

The two Libyans, allegedly former intelligence agents, were suspected of planting a suitcase bomb on the plane.

Ben Heli said he would represent the League's secretary-general, Esmat Abdel-Meguid, who could not make the trip because of other commitments.

The Algerian diplomat said the Libyan government also has invited foreign ministers of six Arab countries that formed a contact group set up by the League in 1992 to help negotiate an end to the crisis with the United States and Britain.

Egypt, a member of the group, has announced it is sending a senior minister. The other countries expected to send high-ranking officials were Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Mauritania.

Arab diplomats in Cairo said that Libya also has asked South Africa and the Organization of African Unity to send representatives.

After a decade of insistence that Fhimah, 42, and al-Megrahi, 46, be extradited to the United States or Britain for trial, the United States agreed in August to a trial in the Netherlands.

Libya said last month it would turn the men over on or before Tuesday.

Terms of the deal call for the UN Security Council to suspend sanctions imposed in 1992, including an air embargo, as soon as the suspects arrive in the Netherlands.

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