Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Deals key to freed medics: Qaddafi's son

`A LINK' Saif ul-Islam Qaddafi said the decision to release six foreign health workers was connected to negotiations for the return of the convicted Lockerbie bomber

AFP , PARIS

A deal with Britain that could see a Libyan convicted for the Lockerbie bombings extradited home and a French arms agreement were key to last week's release of six foreign medics, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's son said in comments published on Wednesday.

Former Libyan secret agent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, who was jailed for the 1988 bombing of a US airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, won the right to a new appeal in June after a court ruled he may have been wrongly convicted.

In an interview with France's Le Monde newspaper, Saif ul-Islam Qaddafi said Tripoli had drawn a link between Megrahi's situation and that of the five nurses and doctor jailed for infecting children with HIV/AIDS.

Asked whether the two cases were connected, Saif ul-Islam replied: "Yes. We established a link."

He told Le Monde he hoped Megrahi would soon be sent back to Libya.

"We will soon have an extradition agreement with Britain," he said, referring to a memorandum of understanding on an extradition deal signed with Libya during a visit by prime minister Tony Blair in May.

Britain's Foreign Office immediately denied there was any link.

"There is no link between Mr Megrahi and the release of the Bulgarian and Palestinian medics," a spokesman said, adding that there is no extradition agreement between Britain and the north African country.

Saif ul-Islam also said the medics' release -- in which France played a key role -- had paved the way for the signing of major arms contracts with France.

"With the French, we have been in negotiations for a long time. We asked Sarkozy to accelerate things. Now that the nurses' case is settled, a golden opportunity has arisen," he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday said there had been no quid pro quo in connection with the release of the medics and that military contracts had not played a role.

A day after the medics' release, Sarkozy traveled to Tripoli, where he signed an agreement with Libya pledging to cooperate on a series of nuclear energy projects, including building a reactor for water desalination.

The nuclear deal has been criticized by environmentalists as a potential proliferation risk, but according to Le Monde, "the heart of the matter" was not the nuclear project, but a wide-ranging defense agreement.

"Firstly, the accord covers joint military exercises, of course. Then we will purchase anti-tank Milan missiles from France, for about 100 million euros [US$137 million] I believe," he was quoted as saying. "Afterwards, there is a plan to manufacture arms, to maintain and produce military equipment."

"You know this is the first agreement by a Western nation to supply weapons to Libya?" he said. "Representatives of Thales and Sagem are in Libya as we speak," he said, referring to two French defense and electronics manufacturers.

As head of the Qaddafi foundation, which negotiated the medics' release and a US$400 million compensation deal for the sick children's families, Saif ul-Islam repeated the claim that "no Libyan money was paid to these families."

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