Monday, 15 May 2017

The last remaining unpleasantness

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2009.

The views of the UK's first ambassador to Tripoli after restoration of diplomatic relations

In 1999, Libya delivered the Lockerbie suspects to stand trial before a Scottish court convened in the Netherlands, which acquitted Mr Fhimah but sentenced Megrahi to life in prison with a minimum of 27 years. Meanwhile, Libya began secret talks with the United States and repaired ties with Britain.

“Relations developed quite quickly,” said Sir Richard Dalton, posted to Libya in 1999 as Britain’s first ambassador in 15 years and currently an analyst with Chatham House, an international affairs think tank in London. “The Libyans were acting responsibly and had fulfilled their obligations in the case of the Lockerbie incident.”

Rapprochement has seen Libya pay US$2.7 billion (Dh9.9bn) to the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing and renounce attempts to acquire a nuclear weapon. UN and US sanctions have been lifted, and a US Embassy reopened in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. (...)

“The Libyans have maintained that Megrahi is innocent, and on humanitarian grounds they’d like to see him restored to his family in Libya,” Sir Richard said.

The move is likely to win applause for their government from ordinary Libyans, said Ronald Bruce St John, a Libya expert and analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, a think tank that is part of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.

“There’s considerable support in Libya for the argument that the government was not involved in Lockerbie.”

However, Tripoli’s request leaves Megrahi in a bind. If he goes home, he will have to drop his current attempt to appeal his conviction. If he stays to fight his case, he may die before its conclusion.

The affair has caused a stir in Britain, where Scottish politicians have voiced dismay at the prospect of Megrahi being turned loose. Some families of Lockerbie victims believe he may be innocent, but others want him to stay in Scottish custody.

“We want the appeal to go through because it’s the main means of us getting further information about how our family members died or why they died,” said Barrie Berkley, an Englishman whose son Alistair was killed in the bombing, quoted by the BBC.

A decision by the Scottish authorities to keep Megrahi would not seriously derail Britain’s relations with Libya, said Sir Richard. “But there would be consequences.”

Among them is the possibility that a successful appeal by Megrahi would plunge Britain, the US and Libya once again into the fraught environment of an international investigation to find new Lockerbie suspects, Sir Richard said.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in London said Washington wanted Megrahi to remain in Scottish hands, while Britain’s foreign office declined to comment on the affair. (...)

His case is currently being examined by the Scottish authorities, said Fiona Wilson, a spokeswoman for Scotland’s devolved government.

“You have to look at Lockerbie as the last remaining unpleasantness between Britain and Libya,” Dr St John said. “They’d like to get it off the table.”

[From an article by John Thorne, foreign correspondent of The National newspaper, Abu Dhabi.]

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