Thursday 22 December 2016

Lockerbie trial sabre-rattling

[What follows is the text of an article that appeared in The New York Times on this date in 1998:]

On the 10th anniversary of the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Scotland, the United States told Libya today that it will face more sanctions if two Libyan suspects are not turned over for trial by a Scottish judge in the Netherlands by February.
''Ten years is much too long to wait for justice,'' said Peter Burleigh, the American representative on the Security Council, which discussed the issue today.
In Libya, however, Col Muammar el-Qaddafi only widened the breach today, apparently rejecting the compromise plan for a trial in the Netherlands by saying that he wanted an international tribunal to hear the case. Earlier this month, Libya's National Assembly seemed to endorse the plan for a Scottish trial after a personal appeal to Colonel Qaddafi from Secretary General Kofi Annan.
''An international court is the solution,'' Colonel Qaddafi told a Dutch television interviewer in a program taped last week and broadcast in the Netherlands today, ''with judges from America, Libya, England and other countries.''
Today, however, at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery marking the bombing, President Clinton said the plan to hold the trial in the Netherlands was a ''take it or leave it'' deal. ''We will not negotiate its terms,'' he added.
For years Libya refused to allow American or British courts to try the suspects in the bombing, which killed 270 people, including 11 on the ground in Lockerbie, the Scottish town where the plane came down. In August Britain and the United States offered the compromise of a trial in a third country, and the Netherlands agreed to allow a Scottish court to be set up for that purpose in Utrecht.
But Libya, under United Nations sanctions since 1992, continued to stall, raising questions about the treatment of the suspects and where they would be imprisoned if convicted. British officials and the Secretary General's legal counsel, Under Secretary General Hans Corell, replied exhaustively to the Libyans.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's representative at the United Nations, said today that all the questions raised by Libya had been answered.
Arab diplomats say Libya is concerned that the two suspects, Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, could be pressed by Western intelligence agencies or trial prosecutors to talk about more than Lockerbie.
Mr. Annan said again today that he remains optimistic that Libya will eventually comply with the request to send the suspects to the Netherlands. But the signs from Libya seem to be pointing in another direction.
In February the Security Council will review the sanctions, which would be suspended immediately if the suspects were handed over.
By February, Mr Burleigh said today, ''the Libyan Government will have had six months to accept the offer it long said it would accept.''
[RB: My neutral venue trial proposal, accepted by Libya, was on the table for four years and seven months before the United Kingdom and United States reluctantly put forward a scheme along the same lines. US criticism of Libya for taking six months to consider the ramifications of that scheme seems somewhat petty.]

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