Libyan falcon to fly free?

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By John Metzler

Moday, Aug. 18, 2003

Paris — What may be the final act in the nearly fifteen year drama over the Libyan regime’s role in the terrorist bombing of Pan An flight #103 could be approaching with what appears to be an Anglo/American diplomatic deal providing for compensation for the victims and attributing responsibility to the perpetrators. Just maybe.

Now at the last moment comes a French objection which could block a UN Security Council resolution lifting Libyan sanctions.

The terrorist act which blew up the ill-fated 747 jetliner over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988 with the loss of 270 lives, was followed by a less-known bombing of a UTA French airliner over the Sahara in September 1989 in which 170 people perished. Libyan agents were implicated in both cases leading to U.S. and UN economic sanctions on Colonel Muammer Kaddafy’s regime.

Thus while a quietly brokered Anglo/American deal with Libya could finally settle the Lockerbie case, France is now pressing for equitability by stressing the rights of the UTA jetliner’s victims. The player in this revived drama is none other than French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of recent Iraq fame.

Though the UN sanctions were suspended in 1999 after the Tripoli regime turned over a few “small fry agents” to a UN tribunal, prime responsibility rests with the State—the quaintly titled Libyan Arab Jamahaira led by the mercurial Col. Kaddafy.

Libya is willing to pay a $2.7 billion settlement for the Lockerbie victims—that will be $10 million to each family paid in three stages; $4 million when UN sanctions are formally ended, $4 million when U.S. sanctions are dropped, and $2 million when Washington takes the Tripoli regime off the list of global sponsors of terrorism. The US is not expected to lift the embargo on Libya nor remove Tripoli from the blacklist.

Tripoli’s three tier compensation tactic is aimed at legally absolving itself, buying legitimacy, and most importantly insuring itself from American attack. There are many reasons the Libyans want to settle sooner rather than later—Business and Bush. The oil-rich North African land wants to break its isolation and broker wider trade, investment, and tourism. The Libyan falcon could soon fly free of international opprobrium.

Though not a member of the Axis of Evil, the Libyan regime has longstanding credentials which would fully warrant charter membership. Given this, Colonel Kaddafy does not want to give George W. Bush even the slightest excuse to exercise a military option.

Revived French interest in the UTA case is curious in its timing; in 1999 Paris had accepted a pittance compromise of between 3,000 and 30,000 Euros per person for the 170 victims. “The Lockerbie accord finds the French diplomacy surprised,” states the Le Figaro newspaper adding “French diplomacy uses the Lockerbie accord as a playing card for claims of the victims of the UTA DC-10.”

Yet the initial indifference by the French Foreign Ministry (Quai d’Orsay) has now seen a change in tone by de Villepin. According to Francoise Rudetzki, President of the victims rights organization SOS Attendats, the initial conciliatory position by the French authorities was likely prompted to preserve economic interests and contracts rather than a concern for the victims. Madame Rudetzki told the Le Monde newspaper that until recently there was the feeling to “turn the page on the incident and a time to forget.” Now the Quai d’Orsay seeks to find an equitable solution for the UTA victims.

Since the Anglo/American deal, Paris has been put in an uncomfortable position of having been outmaneuvered by London and Washington according to diplomatic sources. France is now attempting to revisit the UTA case which had been for all practical purposes had been swept under the rug. The renewed French interest in redress—though morally long overdue--could nonetheless sidetrack the Security Council moves to settle this longstanding case.

The Pan Am and UTA bombings remain classic examples of State sponsored terrorism. SOS plans to bring the case in U.S. Federal Court in September concerning the deaths of Americans on the UTA flight.

Madame Rudetzki stresses to this writer; “Actually the financial compensation comes last. By bringing the case to Federal Court in Washington, what we hope is that final responsibility of the State of Libya and Kaddafy himself will be recognized. It’s much more than the compensation.”

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World

Monday, Aug. 18, 2003

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