Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Libya, Lockerbie families sign deal

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

Libya and families of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing victims agreed on Wednesday to set up a US$2.7 billion compensation account in a key step toward closing the book on the mid-air airliner explosion that killed 270 people and further poisoned Libya's relations with the West.

Lawyers for the families said they and Libyan officials signed the agreement in London after an 11-hour meeting. Libya was expected to follow up by sending a letter to the UN Security Council yesterday or today taking responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The Libyan admission of guilt -- long demanded by the US and Britain -- and the actual payment of the US$2.7 billion were expected to be followed by moves to lift UN sanctions against Libya, possibly as early as next week.

Diplomats stressed the matter will not be settled until Libya admits responsibility in writing -- something it has long been loathe to do -- and pays the compensation, which could ultimately reach US$10 million per victim.

US sanctions will stay in place for now despite US oil companies' eagerness to do business with Tripoli again, US officials said. Some US sanctions predate Lockerbie and reflect Washington's long-standing anger at what it views as Libyan support for acts like the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco that triggered US air strikes on Libya.

"Libya and the lawyers representing families of the victims have signed an agreement to create the escrow account at the Bank for International Settlements," British-based Algerian lawyer Saad Djebbar, who has followed the case since 1992, said from London.

"I expect that by the middle of next week UN sanctions will have been finally removed on Libya," Djebbar said.

Jim Kreindler, a US attorney for many families, wrote in a letter to his clients: "Great news. After an 11-hour session in London today, we signed an Escrow Agreement with the Libyan delegation and the Bank [for] International Settlements."

He said he expected the US$2.7 billion to be deposited "soon."

In a brief telephone interview, Kreindler said that Libya would probably wire the money into the account next week.

Some relatives of the 259 people who were killed aboard the Boeing jumbo jet and the 11 people who died on the ground reacted bitterly at what they described as the first step toward Libya being welcomed back into the world community.

"Obviously we're not happy. We feel this may be the first step in the rehabilitation of [Libyan leader] Muammar Qaddafi," said Dan Cohen of New Jersey, whose 20-year-old daughter Theodora died in the bombing.

Stephanie Bernstein of Maryland, whose husband Michael died at the age of 36, said she wanted to wait until she saw the Libyan statement accepting blame, which the US State Department is expected to describe to the families at a briefing in Washington scheduled for noon today.

"For me that is the most important thing. Qaddafi being Qaddafi, this could all fall apart," Bernstein said.

Libya agreed in March on the language about taking responsibility and confirmed it on Monday in talks with US and British officials. The US and Britain have declined to release the phrasing or to confirm that the families and Libya signed an agreement on Wednesday.

Many of the family members feel deeply ambivalent about compensation payments, saying nothing can replace their loved ones and demanding that Libya continue to be punished for the bombing through US sanctions.

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