Wednesday 20 April 2016

Gaddafi confirms support for neutral venue trial

[On this date in 1998 Dr Jim Swire and I had a meeting in Tripoli with Colonel Gaddafi. Here is what I have previously written about the occasion:]

The Libyan Foreign Ministry committee, with whom all of my previous dealings had been, arranged for Dr Swire and me to have a meeting with Colonel Gaddafi and this took place on 20 April 1998 at his reinforced concrete tent on the outskirts of Tripoli.  The meeting was initially a frosty one, with the Colonel refusing to make eye contact but instead staring straight ahead with his arms folded and making lengthy pronouncements about the inflexibility and intransigence over more than four years of the British government.  When eventually he interrupted his monologue to take breath, we were able to dive in with comments to the effect that the Labour government had been in office for less than a year, was still finding its feet in foreign affairs and that it was possible to detect some signs that its position over the Lockerbie issue might just be somewhat more flexible than that of its Conservative predecessor.  Gaddafi then made a few highly complimentary remarks about Tony Blair, and the remainder of the meeting was held in a much more cordial atmosphere.  After about an hour, we departed with the reassurance that the Libyan government’s policy in relation to a “neutral venue” trial would remain unchanged for at least a further six months.  As we were leaving Gaddafi's compound the then Libyan Foreign Minister, Omar al-Muntasser, who had been present at the meeting, said to us: "You made the Leader laugh three times!  Someone will pay for that!"  I think he was joking.

[The Herald’s report on this meeting reads as follows:]

The two men suspected of causing the Lockerbie bombing could soon be handed over for trial in a neutral country, reports claimed yesterday after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi met British representatives, writes Ron MacKenna.
Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was among the 270 who died in the disaster a decade ago, and Professor Robert Black, from Edinburgh University, had a 40-minute meeting with the Libyan leader in Tripoli on Monday. They said the talks were “of some substance” but refused to elaborate.
However, Egypt's Middle East News Agency quoted Ibrahim el-Ghoweily [Legwell], a lawyer for the suspects, as saying the two sides had agreed ''to hold the trial in a third country with a panel of judges headed by a Scottish judge and in light of Scottish law''.
The talks indicate movement towards ending the seemingly intractable problems over having the two men accused of the outrage tried. Both Britain and the United States both want to try the men but Libya has so far refused to surrender them to either country, saying they will not get a fair trial.
El-Ghoweily said Dr Swire and other representatives of British relatives will ''work to convince'' Britain and the United States ''that the trial should be held in a third country''.
Libyan officials have apparently indicated they are prepared to compromise, allowing a trial before an international panel headed by a Scottish judge.
British relatives would prefer the trial to be held in Scotland but many have indicated they would agree to it being held in a neutral country, possibly the Netherlands.
El-Ghoweily said both sides had agreed on Monday on ''the importance of avoiding prejudiced jurors and any country in which the media or other factors would influence the trial'', and wanted the hearing to take place ''as soon as possible''.
The British and American governments argue that the accused men should not be allowed to dictate conditions for their trial and they are concerned that there will be no jury.

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