Republican News · Thursday 23 July 1998

[An Phoblacht]

Britain, US back down over Lockerbie

By Dara MacNeil

Britain and the United States have signalled a readiness to back down over the trial of two Libyans they allege were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing.

The decision - leaked in advance to British newspapers - should mean the US and Britain will no longer insist the Libyans can be tried only in either jurisdiction.

The case centres on the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, on 21 December 1988. The bomb exploded above Lockerbie in Scotland, as the plane made its way to New York from Frankfurt. All 259 people on board were killed.

Both governments have insisted since November 1991 that Libya hand over the alleged culprits. Libya has refused, claiming the suspects could not expect a fair trial in either jurisdiction.

In November 1995 the Libyans - in conjuction with the Arab League and the Organisation of African Unity - offered to have the men tried in a neutral country under Scottish law. Holland was suggested as a possible venue.

The Libyan refusal to hand over Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah resulted in the impostion of UN sanctions on the country in 1992.

Ironically, the sanctions did not affect Libya's oil exports, or oil drilling equipment: this `concession' was a result of European dependence on and involvement in the Libyan oil industry.

Although the precise details of the British-US volte face have yet to be made public it appears they will concede that the trial can be held at The Hague, in Holland, under Scottish law.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and US Secretary of State Madeline Albright will apparently make the decision public within the next week.

Officially - that is, as detailed in unattributable off-the-record briefings - the joint British-US initiative will place huge pressure on Libya to comply. Which is strange, given that Libya had first raised the option of a third country trial.

It is perhaps more likely that Britain and the US had come to realise the untenable nature of their position.

Thus, the Flight 103 Association - formed by relatives of the dead - has consistently expressed frustration at the British/US refusal to countenance the option of a third country trial.

In addition, many within the Arab world had lost patience with Anglo-American policy and were calling for an end to the sanctions.

Last October, Nelson Mandela made a point of stopping off in Tripoli, on his return from the Commonwealth summit in Edinburgh. Given the South African President's status worldwide, this represented a snub of the highest order.

(Mandela also ignored severe pressure from US politicians to leave Cuban president Fidel Castro off his inauguration guest list. Instead, Mandela publicly made Castro welcome and the Cuban leader featured prominently on local reports of the ceremony.)

Mandela's Libyan visit paved the way for more concrete signals of displeasure. Most recently, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) announced it would cease to comply with the UN sanctions, from September.

The OAU made continued observance of the sanctions conditional on a third country trial for the Lockerbie suspects.

Of greater potential embarassment was a ruling from the International Court of Justice in February. The Court ruled that it had the power to decide where the Libyan suspects should be tried.

In other words the Court signalled that neither Britain nor the US had the right to abrogate to themselves the power to decide where the trial should, or should not be heard.

That decision signalled the effective end for Anglo-American intransigence on the issue.

Those sceptical of US-British motives believe neither actually wanted the two Libyans to be brought to trial - their insistence on a trial in their jurisdiction being based on a belief that Libya would never hand over its citizens to either power. In addition, the official version of events is said to be rife with inconsistencies, while the actual `evidence' against the two Libyans is adjudged poor.

Thus, there are consistent allegations that a large quantity of drugs was found among the debris of Pan Am flight 103. There is also the testimony of volunteers who, while helping to search the crash site, claim they were warned away from a large object covered by a red tarpaulin, by armed men standing in the door of a hovering helicopter.

In addition, the official version has never managed to explain the two warnings received in advance of the the bombing. Both correctly identified the timeframe in which the bomb would be placed. One warning specified a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to New York.

Apparently, these warnings were considered serious enough for the US embassy in Moscow to post an alert on its staff noticeboard.

Indeed British journalist Paul Foot - who uncovered many of the anomalies in the official story of flight 103 - has remarked on the compelling political context surrounding the Lockerbie case.

According to Foot, both the British and German authorities were satisified quite soon after the bombing that it had been the work of a group under the protection of Syria. The attack had allegedly been financed by Iran.

It was ordered in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner in 1987. The civilian plane was shot down by the US navy in the Gulf, killing all 290 people on board.

From 1988 to 1990, the authorities concentrated their energies on the Syrian-Iranian link to Lockerbie. Indeed they were confident enough to predict that arrests were imminent.

Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The West quietly decreed that Syria was no longer a `rogue' state. After all, without the participation of Syria the putative anti-Saddam coalition would lack `roots' in the region and probably fail to materialise.

In November 1991, with Kuwait restored to, ahem, democracy the US and British authorities issued indictments against the two Libyans.

Libya was now the official cuplrit.

Foot remarked on the the ``amazing coincidence'' that had charges being laid against the ``only Arab country besides Iraq to which the US and Britain were openly hostile.''

Indeed the tale grew more lurid when a US-based agency alleged the bomb had resulted from a deal between US intelliengce figures and Syrian ``narco-terrorists.''

The deal allegedly centred on information regarding US hostages being provided in exchange for a `route' being made available for Syrian drugs to be smuggled into the US. The bomb had been concealed amidst the drug cache.

The allegations were published in November 1991 in a report compiled by Interfor, a corporate investigative firm hired by none other than Pan Am to inquire into the Lockerbie bombing. In essence, their report supported the theory of a joint Syrian-Iranian operation.

It may sound fantasical, but then this was an era when the US was covertly funding wars in Latin America.

Their Dirty War against Nicaragua was also characterised by repeated allegations that US intelligence figures faciltated the `import' of drugs into the US in order to provide funding for the Contras.

Picking on the wrong guy

A tale to warm the hearts of decent-minded people everywhere. It appears that a German skinhead recently took offence at the presence in a local poolhall of an individual whose skin colour did not conform to strictest Aryan standards. Such a blatant display of racial impurity in the Fatherland was more than this bigot could take. So he proceeded to berate and insult the `auslander'.

Unfortunately our hapless Nazi could not have known that the target of his hatred was in fact a champion Cuban boxer.

He would not, after all, be expected to be au fait with sports involving persons of a different skin hue. Precise details of the ensuing bout remain sketchy, but it is not thought the Cuban required a points decision to take the fight. Perhaps we could make this an annual event....

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