Gaddafi Prepares a Sacrifice

By Cusick, James | The Independent (London, England), September 3, 1993 | Go to article overview
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Gaddafi Prepares a Sacrifice

Cusick, James, The Independent (London, England)

ACCORDING to the words placed in Socrates' mouth by Plato in the Apology, if one is ready to do and say anything whatever, then in any situation there are various ways of winning through. The Foreign Office's response to Libya's newest claim - that Libya is now apparently willing to send the two men accused of the Lockerbie bombing to Scotland for trial - is being met with Platonic scepticism in Whitehall. The classicists of the Foreign Office believe the Libyans are using the old trick of playing for time. And time for Libya is running out.

Tomorrow Britain, France and the United States will urge the UN Security Council to begin procedures to impose harsher sanctions on Libya. Unless the two men accused of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 are handed over for trial, and Libya co-operates with Paris in an investigation into the bombing of a French airliner over Niger in 1989, then the new sanctions are likely to include freezing selected Libyan financial assets abroad and banning the sale of oil-related equipment. The measures - along with the air and arms embargo imposed in April last year - are designed to create chaos in the Libyan economy and weaken the leadership of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

It is not certain that the Security Council will vote through tougher sanctions: Germany and Italy are said to be reluctant. Tripoli, though, appears to be taking no chances. Foreign assets, including pounds 4.3bn in cash and holdings, are thought to have been quickly transferred to banks in Asia and the Third World, out of the reach of the West.

Yesterday Jana, the official news agency, quoted a Libyan foreign ministry source as stating: "We do not oppose their {the two men} standing trial under the Scottish legal system and we urge them to accept that." The timing of the statement should be interpreted alongside private briefings that have taken place this week in New York between the UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and the Libyan Foreign Affairs minister, Omar al-Muntasser. The Libyan minister asked for an extention of the 1 October deadline. The request was rejected.

Dr Ibrahim Legwell, the lawyer representing the accused, Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah (both allegedly members of the Libyan intelligence service), said this week that he was ready to go to Switzerland "within days" for a trial. He also insisted that if a trial was to take place anywhere else in the West, "detailed talks" were still needed. That was interpreted as another part of the same time-winning game plan. Swiss lawyers are part of Dr Legwell's team of international advisers. Egypt has also been a contender to host a trial, although President Hosni Mubarak, commenting on a Scottish venue, said: "There will not be a surrender, but the two might travel abroad to establish their innocence."

Any trial will have to examine the events that led up to the bombing, four days before Christmas 1988, that killed 270 people. The indictments, issued in Scotland and the US on 13 November 1991, stated that the two members of Libyan intelligence - one head of security of Libyan Arab Airlines and director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tripoli, the other a station manager of the same airline in Malta - "acted in concert together and with others". What exactly that means, and what evidence there is to implicate others - perhaps senior figures in the Libyan government - will be one of the most eagerly awaited parts of the trial.

The five-page document sets out in detail how the men are said to have stored explosives at Luqa airport, Malta; built a bomb hidden in a Toshiba radio; called at a shop to buy clothes used to wrap around the bomb, and placed the contents in a suitcase with Air Malta tags. On 21 December they are said to have placed the suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 to Frankfurt airport. It was carried to Pan Am flight 103, bound for New York via Heathrow.

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