Libya Delivers Pan Am Bomb Suspects
Apr. 05, 1999
CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands (AP) _ The United Nations suspended sanctions against Libya on Monday after Moammar Gadhafi surrendered two suspected Libyan intelligence agents for trial in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet.
The handover _ hailed by Clinton administration officials as a victory against terrorism _ ended seven years of punishing sanctions against Libya and began what could be a lengthy trial process in the Netherlands.
``Now, at last, the road to justice has begun,'' President Clinton said in a statement.
The two Libyans were being held at this former U.S. airbase, awaiting arraignment under Scottish law on charges of planting the suitcase bomb that blew up Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans.
Suspects Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, accompanied by U.N. representative Hans Corell, landed at a military airport earlier Monday near The Hague. They were swiftly extradited to British custody in the Netherlands.
Before leaving the Libyan capital of Tripoli, the suspects said they hoped to return to their families after being found innocent.
``We are confident in ourselves,'' said al-Megrahi, 46. ``The days will prove that what we are saying is true.''
Fhimah, 42, flashed the victory sign and told Arab diplomats: ``We hope to see you upon our return.''
Relatives of the victims killed in the bombing had mixed emotions _ elation that the suspects were finally going to be tried, fear that the trial would never touch Gadhafi, the man they felt was behind the crash.
``If trying these two is the ultimate goal of this trial, then it's a travesty,'' said George Williams, president of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, which represents 160 American families who lost relatives aboard the plane.
``We look for the truth wherever it may lead and we firmly believe that this will go all the way to the top of the Libyan government,'' he said by telephone from his home in Joppa, Md.
In Britain, Jane Swire, whose daughter Flora was aboard the jumbo jet, told Sky Television: ``At least this is a good message for the world _ people who are accused of wicked crimes like this are brought to justice.''
Once the suspects' plane touched down Monday on Dutch soil, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan notified the Security Council, which then suspended the sanctions imposed on Libya in 1992 and tightened in 1993.
The suspects were then flown to Camp Zeist, a deserted U.S. airbase 30 miles southeast of Amsterdam, and put into holding cells. Their trial will take place in the camp.
More than 100 Scottish police, some with attack dogs, patrolled the airbase grounds, which for the extent of the trial is considered Scottish soil.
The men face up to life in prison. If convicted, they will serve their sentences in Glasgow's Barlinnie jail, Scotland's highest-security prison.
The suspects will be arraigned, probably by midweek, on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and violations of international aviation laws. Under Scottish law, their trial should start 110 days after their arraignment. It is expected to last up to a year.
Corell told a news conference in Rotterdam that with the handover of the suspects' passports to the Dutch, the United Nations' role in the case was effectively over.
Annan said he was confident the two suspects would receive a fair trial and called the handover ``a vital step forward in what has been a long ordeal for all involved, especially for the families of the victims, who have suffered an irreparable loss.''
He will report in a month and a half on Libya's compliance with other U.N. demands, and the Council will consider completely lifting the sanctions, which include bans on international air travel and sales of weapons and oil industry equipment.
In a statement read on Libyan television, Libya's Foreign Ministry expressed ``the hope that a negative phase in international relations has been resolved.''
Eager to reverse the most painful of the sanctions _ the flight ban _ Libya will begin talks Tuesday with Egypt about resuming flights between the two countries.
Libyan Airlines' fleet of 12 planes is in serious need of repair and upgrading. Two planes are rusting at Cairo airport, while the others have been flying only domestic routes.
U.S. State Department Spokesman James P. Rubin said Libya will have to fulfill other demands laid out in U.N. resolutions for a complete lifting of sanctions, notably ``payment of appropriate compensation, renunciation of support for terrorism and cooperation with the trial.''
Rubin told a briefing that unilateral U.S. sanctions intended to limit Libyan access to funds and material for terrorist activities and weapons of mass destruction programs will remain in place.
The handover came after intense lobbying by South African President Nelson Mandela and Saudi Arabian and U.N. officials. Tripoli had long argued the suspects could not get a fair trial in Britain or the United States.
To break the deadlock, the two countries proposed a neutral venue _ a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. Gadhafi sought and received guarantees about the suspects' rights and treatment.
For many of the families, though, a trial will never be enough.
``My child died,'' said Susan Cohen of Cape May Court House, N.J., whose 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, was killed. ``Two hundred seventy people died horrible deaths. Little girls, pregnant women, all kinds of people. This is sickening to see this passed off as justice.''