Fri, Feb 02, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Libya may compensate victims

GUILTY VERDICT With the US and British governments insisting that Libya must pay out after one of its nationals was found guilty of the bombing of a Pan Am flight, Tripoli says it will `never' accept responsibility


The wife of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi cries as her son looks at her at their home in Tripoli on Wednesday, the same day a Scottish court convicted her husband of murder in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.


Libya said yesterday it may consider paying compensation to the Lockerbie victims -- but it will never accept responsibility for the bombing.

Amid conflicting signals from the Tripoli government, Washington and London united in insisting that Libya must pay up and accept the blame.

Libyan state-run television said on Wednesday that a Libyan convicted on Wednesday of murdering 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing would lodge an appeal.

It said defense lawyers would appeal within 14 days against the court's verdict on Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, 49. Another Libyan, Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima, was found not guilty by the special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands.

Fahima left the Netherlands yesterday morning for Libya, the Dutch Justice Ministry said.

"He's on the way to Libya," spokesman Victor Holtus said. "He left Soesterberg [airbase] at 11:30 this morning."

Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima flew home on a Dutch Air Force Hercules aircraft, under the responsibility of the UN, and arrived at Maatika airport in Tripoli later yesterday and was immediately surrounded by journalists.

Holtus could not say for sure if Fahima's destination was the Libyan capital Tripoli, a journey which he estimated would take around four hours.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgam said Libya wished "to turn a new page in its relations with Britain and the US and establish new relations based on respect for its sovereignty and independence."

But "we will not give in to blackmail," he added in a statement faxed to the media.

Libya's ambassador to Britain said that once the appeal process was over, Libya may consider paying compensation.

"After the appeal result, in that time we can speak about compensation and we will fulfil our duty as we said before to the Security Council," Mohammed al-Zwai told BBC Radio. "But we still think not now."

Pressed on whether Libya was considering the question of compensation, he said: "If our people are guilty we will pay any compensation in that time." He stressed that nothing was final until the appeal had run its course.

But there may be another major stumbling block to the lifting of UN sanctions against Libya which was accused for years by the West of actively promoting state terrorism.

Asked by the BBC in Tripoli if Libya would accept responsibility for Lockerbie, the country's foreign minister, Mohammed Abderrahmane Chalgam, replied: "Never."

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said London would be pushing for compensation from Libya "extremely hard."

He said both he and US Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed that before sanctions could be lifted, Libya must fulfill all the requirements of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

"That means that they have to accept responsibility for the appalling mass murder, destruction of Pan Am 103 and they also have to pay further compensation to the relatives," he told BBC radio.

"I was quite interested, the ambassador did not rule out taking these further steps. What he was saying is it will have to wait until the appeal is discharged."

Should the convicted man choose to appeal, he will "of course have a fair hearing, as he's already had a fair trial," Cook said.

"But in the event of the guilty verdict standing, Libya has to accept that it must take those two further steps."

President George W. Bush adopted a similar stance after the conviction. He insisted that Libya must take responsibility for the bombing and pay compensation before the lifting of sanctions will be considered.

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