- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

From combined dispatches

TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya has agreed to increase compensation for the 1989 bombing of a French airliner over Niger, allowing it to close the Lockerbie case and repair relations with the West, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said yesterday.

The compensation dispute erupted after Britain moved to end U.N. sanctions on Libya when Tripoli agreed in August to pay $2.7 billion to families of the 270 persons killed in the 1988 bombing of an airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

But France, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, had threatened to block the move unless Tripoli increased its compensation to relatives of those who died when a UTA airliner was blown up over Niger in 1989.

“The problem over the UTA case is over and the Lockerbie case is now behind us. We are opening a new page in our relations with the West,” said Col. Gadhafi, addressing his nation on the anniversary of the coup that brought him to power in 1969.

During his speech, Col. Gadhafi said Libya was compelled to agree to the Lockerbie deal so sanctions against Libya could be lifted and its name removed from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

“What matters to us is honor. We don’t care about money,” he said. “The case of Lockerbie is now behind our backs. The Libyans have displayed wisdom and courage as well as efficiency in conducting this strategic conflict.”

The agreement opens the way for Britain to introduce its twice-delayed motion to end sanctions imposed over the Lockerbie bombing. London has said it aims to do so this week.

Britain had held off submitting the resolution to avoid another embarrassing split with France in the U.N. Security Council, after the dispute over the Iraq war.

“The deal is done; the terms will be announced tomorrow,” Saad Djebbar, a London-based lawyer who worked with Libya over the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, told Reuters news agency earlier.

Though Libya has never admitted responsibility, Tripoli paid $34 million to France after a Paris court convicted six Libyans in absentia for killing 170 persons in the UTA bombing.

A source familiar with the Libyan position said on Saturday that Tripoli had offered around $300,000 per family.

That would be a significant increase on the original payout, but still less than the families had been seeking.

A source close to the talks told Reuters they wanted compensation equivalent to the $120 million won by families of the 109 persons who died in the 2000 Concorde disaster outside Paris.

Mr. Djebbar said on Saturday that Tripoli would be ready to increase the sum if French President Jacques Chirac called Col. Gadhafi and pledged that France would back or at least not block an end to U.N. sanctions.

The French Foreign Ministry said Mr. Chirac had spoken to Col. Gadhafi yesterday — the second time in eight days.

Relatives of the French victims flew to Libya for a weekend of hectic negotiations with the Libyan authorities. A spokesman for the families, Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc, refused to divulge the details of any deal.

“We have spent a sleepless night and the entire day negotiating,” he said shortly after arriving back in Paris. He declined to elaborate.

Col. Gadhafi spoke at an auditorium before thousands of cheering Libyans, discussing such topics as the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, Libyan relations with the United States and the Arab world, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

International journalists who traveled to Tripoli to cover the 1969 coup anniversary were barred from attending the speech.

Col. Gadhafi questioned America’s ability to triumph in Iraq, whose people, he said, would fight to the death to expel foreign occupiers.

“If an Iraqi wants to die, he won’t care about Libyan, Egyptian or American forces. He will attack any foreign forces on his lands, even if that land was close to Mecca,” he said in reference to Islam’s holiest shrine, located in Saudi Arabia.

In what appeared to be a warning to the United States against considering military action in Libya after Iraq, Col. Gadhafi said, “If they will come back to fight us, we will fight them back.”

But Col. Gadhafi said there were areas where Libya and the United States could see eye to eye, including their joint opposition to terrorism, dictatorships and religion being mixed with politics.

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