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US and Britain may be guilty of a cover-up 

SAM MAKINDA

08/25/03: (Daily Nation) Libya's recent acceptance of responsibility for the bombing of an American passenger jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988 was a result of intense diplomatic negotiations with the British and American governments, but far from satisfying the victims' families, it has raised many complex questions.

While some of the relatives of the Lockerbie victims have welcomed the prospect of being compensated, others have rejected the offer, and still others have called for further investigations to reveal the truth. In short, Libyaís compensation package has brought a further opening, rather than a closure, to the controversy over the incident.

Following the Lockerbie disaster, in which 270 people perished, suspicion was cast over several Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Libya and Syria, and some Palestinian groups. However, the British and American intelligence ignored other leads and focused on Libya.

On 31 March 1992, the US, Britain and France sponsored UN Security Council resolution 748 that imposed sanctions on Libya, which included a global flight ban, a freezing of Libyan assets, and an embargo on equipment for the oil industry. 

The sanctions were suspended, but not lifted, in 1999 when Libya handed over two suspects, Abdelbasset Ali Mohammed al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, who were tried under Scottish law at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. 

Megrahi was convicted in January 2001, while Fhimah was cleared. Megrahi, who is serving a life sentence in a Glasgow prison, is appealing against his conviction. At Megrahiís trial, one prosecution witness could not testify until the CIA had paid him $ 2.7 million. 

Even if it were accepted that Megrahi planted the bomb, he was only an agent. This leaves the question: Who ordered him to do so? 

Muammar Gaddafi has offered $ 2.7 billion to be placed in a Swiss account to compensate the relatives of the victims. Each family will receive $10 million per victim, but this amount is to be paid in instalments.

According to details that emerged last weekend, each victimís family will receive $4 million when the UN sanctions are lifted, and another $4 million after the US has lifted its unilateral sanctions, imposed before 1992. The final $2 million will be paid after the US has removed Libya from the list of countries that are said to sponsor terrorism. 

Compensation is useful to the bereaved families, but no amount of money can make up for the loss of a relative or friend.

The amount that Libya has agreed to pay per victim is higher than anyone expected, and this has provoked Paris to complain that Col Gaddafiís regime paid a smaller sum in compensation for the French victims of a plane crash in 1989 that was blamed on Libyans.

Regardless of the sums, some relatives of the Lockerbie victims have been dismayed by the fact that Libya has accepted responsibility. One Briton, Matt Berkley, whose brother was killed, has rejected the offer.

In an interview with The Observer newspaper, he said: "I havenít seen what I would consider credible evidence that Libya did it or that any admission by Libya would be truthful, rather than simply the result of them being put under enormous pressure by the international community''. Similarly, Tam Dalyell, an MP from Prime Minister Tony Blairís Labour Party, told the Independent newspaper: "Gaddafi may be so desperate to get back into the international fold that he would come to this business deal. The issue remains, have we got the right people? There are many of us who doubt.''

Moreover, Dr. Jim Swire, whose daughter died at the Lockerbie, said: "Compensation is one part of a complicated process. It doesnít bring us any closer to the truth we have been fighting for for 15 years''.

There is no doubt that the relatives of those who died at Lockerbie want justice in addition to compensation, but there can be no justice without the truth. 

They want a public inquiry into how the Lockerbie investigations were handled. Some of them suspect that acceptance of the idea that Libya is guilty could stifle attempts to launch further investigations, which might turn up evidence pointing in different directions.

Why, then, arenít the British, American and Libyan governments interested in providing the truth? 

Could it be that the US and Britain want to lift sanctions so that they open up Libyan markets to their companies? 

From the moment the UK and the US introduced the Lockerbie issue into the UN Security Council, it became a UN issue that is of relevance to all member countries interested in combating terrorism at the global level.

Rightly or wrongly, Security Council resolution 748 of 1992 assumed that Libya was guilty and required that sanctions could not be lifted until Col Gaddafiís regime had admitted responsibility, paid fair compensation, renounced terrorism and disclosed all it knew about the Lockerbie explosion. 

Therefore, it would be logical to suggest that Libya, the UK and the US owe the UN Security Council, and through it the whole world, a detailed explanation of what led to the Lockerbie incident. 

Mr Makinda, a former Nation editor, teaches International Relations at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia.

Copyright ©2003, Nation Media Group Ltd. All rights reserved.


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