- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

From combined dispatches
TRIPOLI, Libya The Libyan government has accepted responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and set up a fund to compensate victims' families, Foreign Minister Mohammed Abderrahmane Chalgam said yesterday.
The United States has demanded that Tripoli accept responsibility for the bombing and pay compensation before U.N. and U.S. sanctions can be scrapped, a moment eagerly awaited by at least four U.S. oil companies.
A British official said after the announcement that Washington and London were discussing the outstanding requirements.
"We have taken on the responsibility for this case on the basis of the international law which states that the state takes on responsibility for what its employees do," Mr. Chalgam said.
In a statement received by Reuters news agency, he also said Libya had set up a fund to compensate victims' families. "The provisioning of that fund with the decided amount has started," he added.
A Pan Am airliner exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988, killing 270 persons including 11 on the ground. Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Magrahi was convicted of the crime in 2001 by a court sitting in the Netherlands.
Libyan officials have held talks with government officials from Britain and the United States in recent months. The latest talks were in early March.
The sticking point had been Libya's acceptance of government responsibility rather than the compensation, which was largely agreed upon last year and could reach $10 million per victim, or $2.7 billion in total, Tripoli-based diplomats said.
"We are working seriously to end the Lockerbie case and close definitively this matter in a short period," Mr. Chalgam said.
Tripoli's latest move might have been dictated by new developments on the world scene, notably the U.S. conquest of Iraq, analysts in Libya's neighbor Egypt said.
"Libya has opted for a more realistic political approach, dictated by developments in the balance of forces internationally," the editor of the Egyptian government-owned magazine, Al-Mussawar, told Agence France-Presse.
"It is an attempt on Libya's part to bring itself into line with changes on the international scene and fall in with the superpowers in order to avoid any confrontation with the United States," said Makram Mohamed Ahmed, who is close to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
He did not exclude the possibility that Mr. Mubarak may have advised Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to admit that the world was now a different place, as exemplified most recently by the crushing of Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition after Saddam Hussein's regime defied Washington.
The United States had said it had yet to get official confirmation on the Libyan action.
"What is important is whether Libya meets the U.N. requirements, not what their officials might say to the press," State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassel told Agence France-Presse. "Libya knows what it needs to do. There are no shortcuts."
In London, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said yesterday that British and U.S. officials "are discussing the outstanding requirements."
The United Nations and European Union suspended sanctions in 1999, including an air and arms embargo and a ban on some oil equipment, when Libya handed over two Lockerbie suspects for trial by Scottish judges in the Netherlands.
European firms have grabbed new Libyan acreage while Washington's unilateral ban kept U.S. companies sidelined.
Four U.S. oil companies, Conoco Phillips, Marathon Oil, Amerada Hess Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp., are hoping to resume operations in Libya, on hold since President Reagan ordered an embargo in 1986.
If sanctions are lifted, the United States would also be able to buy Libyan oil again for the first time in 17 years.

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