Friday, July 13, 2007

Pressuring Libya

Four Democratic senators yesterday announced plans to block President Bush‘s nomination of an ambassador to Libya until the former terrorist nation fully compensates the American families of the victims of an airliner blown up over Scotland nearly 20 years ago.

“Libya has failed to fulfill financial commitments they made to American victims of their terrorist acts,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, who organized a coalition with his fellow senator from New Jersey, Robert Menendez, and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Most of the 179 Americans who died on Pan Am Flight 103 were from New York or New Jersey. Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi agreed in 2003 to pay $2.7 billion, or $10 million to the families of each of the 259 passengers and crew who died in the plane’s explosion and the 11 persons killed on the ground from debris that fell onto the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.

Mr. Bush on Wednesday announced his selection of Gene Cretz, deputy chief of mission in Israel, to serve as the first U.S. ambassador to Libya since the United States and Libya re-established full diplomatic relations last year. The two nations opened lower-level diplomatic offices in 2004 in each other’s capitals after Col. Gadhafi renounced terrorism and dismantled his weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

Mr. Lautenberg, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also is trying to block funds for a new U.S. Embassy as another way to pressure Libya to complete the settlement. Libya was supposed to make a final $2 million payment to each of the families last year, after the United States removed it from the list of terrorist nations.

“Libya voluntarily settled these claims,” Mr. Lautenberg said. “To not deliver on their promise is a slap in the face to American families that have waited for years for accountability for Libya’s crime.”

Mr. Schumer added, “Until Libya fully compensates the Pan Am families, no U.S. ambassador should set foot in Tripoli.”

The United States withdrew its ambassador to Libya in 1972 to protest Col. Gadhafi’s support for terrorism.

Defending Sri Lanka

The ambassador from war-weary Sri Lanka responded to complaints from 50 members of the U.S. Congress, saying his government prosecutes police and soldiers who harm civilians but defended the use of “drastic measures” in its war against Tamil terrorists.

“In an environment such as this, where terrorism constantly stalks innocent civilians, the government has the formidable responsibility to ensure the most vital human right of the people: the right to life,” Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke wrote in a letter he released this week.

“In guaranteeing this critical human right, you will appreciate that the law enforcement authorities sometimes have to implement drastic measures, which under conditions of normalcy, would be seen as a violation of civil liberties.”

The ambassador addressed his letter to Rep. Rush D. Holt, New Jersey Democrat, who organized the congressional letter originally sent to President Bush on June 28. Mr. Holt’s letter was signed by 44 other Democrats and five Republicans.

They called on Mr. Bush to “increase U.S. diplomatic engagement and high-level political contact” to try to bring peace between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The House members accused both sides of the “widespread abuses of human rights.”

Mr. Goonetilleke said his government is responding to repeated rebel violations of a 2002 cease-fire and explained that the Tigers, who pioneered the grisly tactic of suicide bombings, “carried out several thousand terrorist attacks against civilians” since January.

Government troops this week drove the rebels from their last stronghold in the eastern part of the South Asian country, but the Tigers still control the northern tip of the island nation.

c Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@

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