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13 Mar 2003 10:00
Libya has agreed to take some responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and pay billions of dollars in compensation to the families of the victims, US officials said on Wednesday.
However, the officials stressed that an announcement of a deal to lift UN and US sanctions against Tripoli in exchange is not imminent, despite progress made during negotiations in London on Tuesday.
“I can’t say we are on the verge of announcing anything yet,” one senior State Department official said. “I certainly don’t expect anything official today (Wednesday.)”
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns, who attended the London meeting with British and Libyan officials, is to brief relatives of American victims on the progress later on Wednesday.
The officials said that at the London meeting, Libya had repeated an offer to pay $2,7-billion in compensation to the families and said it was prepared to assume limited responsibility for the downing of Pan Am flight 103, something it has previously refused to do.
“It’s encouraging but whether it’s enough for us to agree to a deal is an open question right now,” a second US official said.
“It’s being discussed right now at the highest levels.”
State Department representative Richard Boucher declined to comment on the specifics of the “progress” that had been made in London, but indicated it was worth intensive further study.
“We’ll look at the progress that was made ... in London and we will evaluate it, look at it closely, look at it very carefully to make sure that all the requirements of the UN resolution were met,” he told reporters.
Boucher and the other officials could not say how long that process would take, but one said it was a matter of “days and weeks.”
Acceptance of responsibility for the bombing is one of several key requirements for the lifting of the UN sanctions which were suspended after Libya handed over two former intelligence agents for trial in the matter.
In January 2001, a special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands found one of those agents guilty of planting the bomb and sentenced him to life in prison. His appeal of the conviction was rejected last March. At the London meeting, the Libyan representatives indicated that Tripoli would be willing to take civil but not criminal
responsibility for the bombing.
It was not immediately clear how that would affect pending lawsuits filed against the Libyan government by the families of the 270 victims, but Tripoli would require that those suits be dropped if a deal was to go through.
The matter is complicated because Libya’s payment of compensation to the relatives is contingent not only on the court cases, but also on the United Nations and the United States removing the sanctions.
Under the agreement, Libya has proposed paying the compensation in installments based on the timing of the removal of the sanctions. Four million dollars would be paid to each family once UN sanctions are lifted, and an additional four million would be paid once US sanctions are lifted.
The final two million dollars would be paid out once the United States removes Libya from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” Libya is now one of seven countries on that list.
The United States has said that UN sanctions cannot be lifted until Libya satisfies all of its requirements under UN Security Council resolutions, including the payment of compensation, an admission of responsibility for the bombing, the disclosure of all relevant information about it and a renunciation of terrorism.
The US sanctions, imposed under different terms, would require those steps in addition to other moves from Tripoli. - Sapa-AFP
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