Libya says it 'bought peace' with Lockerbie deal

Libya’s Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem has said that Libya only agreed to pay compensation for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing to “buy peace”, according to a BBC interview broadcast on Tuesday.

Ghanem also told BBC radio’s flagship Today programme there was no evidence that a Libyan was responsible for the shooting of a British policewoman 20 years ago, an event which led to London breaking off diplomatic relations with Tripoli.

Libya formally accepted responsibility in August 2003 for the bombing of New York-bound Flight Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, southwest Scotland, and agreed to pay $2,7-billion in compensation to families of the 270 victims.

The following month the United Nations Security Council voted to lift sanctions against Libya.

“We thought it was easier for us to buy peace and this is why we agreed to compensation,” Ghanem said.

“Therefore we said, ‘Let us buy peace, let us put the whole case behind us and let us look forward’,” he added.

His comments could damage the former pariah state’s relations with Britain which have improved dramatically since Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi announced in December that his country had given up the bid to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Tripoli and London formally re-established diplomatic relations in 1999.

Ties between the nations had already been shattered in 1984 when policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead from inside the Libyan embassy in London as she monitored an anti-Libyan demonstration in the street outside.

Libya accepted responsibility for Fletcher’s murder in July 1999 and agreed to pay compensation to her family.

However, Ghanem told the BBC he agreed with lawyer Doctor Maloud Malhabdi who had studied the incident and said there was no evidence that Fletcher was killed by a Libyan, or even that the fatal shot was fired from the embassy.

“There is no reason to oppose that view because I think it is an educated view coming from a lawyer who followed the case. So I will go along of course with what the lawyer says,” Ghanem said.

It was not immediately clear whether Malhabdi had been directly involved in the case.

Ghanem said the issue had now been settled to the satisfaction of both the Libyan and British governments.

No one has yet been arrested for the murder.

The Libyan prime minister’s comments regarding Fletcher’s shooting immediately provoked outrage from Glen Smyth, chairperson of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents police officers in London.

“This is the nation that engaged in mass murder that is now saying it didn’t do what everyone knows it did and how on earth can we normalise relations with a state like that?,” he said.

The Ghanem interview comes a fortnight after historic talks at Downing Street between British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his Libyan counterpart Abdul Rahman Mohammed Shalgam.

Straw said discussions during the visit, the first by a Libyan foreign minister “in over 20 years”, had covered “enhanced co-operation” on resolving the outstanding issues surrounding Fletcher’s murder.

Shalgam said they would work on the issue with “honesty”.

In a sign that Libya was slowly being accepted back into the international fold, it was announced during Shalgam’s visit that British Prime Minister Tony Blair would visit Gadaffi “as soon as convenient”.

No date was fixed for the meeting and the British Foreign Office was unable to confirm in which country such a meeting might take place. Ghanem said a Blair visit to Libya would be important because he could see the country for himself rather than hearing about it from others.
The British prime minister would be made very welcome, he added.

He also said Gadaffi would consider visiting Britain if he was invited.

Ghanem called for the United States, which has existing sanctions against Libya, to take his country off its list of states sponsoring terrorism. - Sapa-AFP

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