Lockerbie developments greeted with skepticism

Crash victim's father doubts Kadafi motives

February 15, 1999|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- George Williams has seen signs of cooperation before from Libyan leader Muammar el Kadafi, only to be disappointed. This time he's not buying it.

Williams and his wife Judy, who live in Joppa, lost their 24-year-old son, Geordie, in the explosion and crash of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

As president of an organization representing the majority of families of the 189 American victims, Williams closely follows the diplomatic efforts to bring two Libyan intelligence agents to trial in the attack.

Last year, the group endorsed a British-American offer to Libya in which the suspects could avoid being tried in either the United States or Britain. The two countries agreed to a trial in the Netherlands, using Scottish judges.

After an initial positive response, Kadafi balked. In December, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with the Libyan leader, only to leave empty-handed.

So yesterday, even as Britain's foreign secretary, Robin Cook, said the outlook for a trial was brighter than ever, Williams found it easy to keep his optimism in check.

"[Kadafi] does it every time the sanctions roll over," said Williams referring to the periodic review of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council, which has barred international air traffic to Libya and prevented it from importing oil-production equipment.

"He pulls that chain and starts calling in some of his friends, who fall for it every time," said Williams, president of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 Inc.

Spark of hope

The latest spark of hope came in a statement from Annan early Saturday that "important progress" had been made toward persuading Libya to turn over the two suspects, and that he was looking for a "speedy conclusion of this matter."

The statement followed announcements from South Africa and Saudi Arabia, which have been negotiating with the Libyans, that they reached a "common understanding" with Kadafi.

Cook, whose government has been skeptical of previous reports of an agreement with Kadafi, sounded a more hopeful note yesterday.

"I'm not going to sigh with relief until the two men touch down in the Netherlands. But I am encouraged at the progress that has been made. It looks as if we could be approaching the endgame," Cook said.

He spoke to reporters during a break in talks at Rambouillet, outside Paris, on the crisis in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

"What we now need is to tie down the general agreement to the principle of a trial in the Netherlands, with a very clear specific undertaking from Colonel Kadafi," Cook told reporters.

"What we want to see is justice carried out in a fair and open trial. We now look as if we are closer to that than we have ever been so far," he said.

Key issue in talks

One key issue in the recent negotiations has been where the two suspects would serve any prison sentences. Britain insists they be sent to Scotland, but is willing to allow them to serve in a special prison wing, where the U.N. would play some supervisory role.

A few weeks ago, Annan had sounded a note of despair after his failed efforts in December to get Kadafi to turn over the suspects, saying "our prospects may be less favorable" in Libya than in some of his other diplomatic initiatives.

He told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that he had gone to Libya in hopes of securing justice for the Lockerbie victims. He also hoped to "close the widening gap between Africa and the West in their treatment of that country."

The White House continued to echo that skepticism this weekend.

"The proof is in the pudding on this one," said a senior official, who declined to be identified. "Show me the results."

Kadafi has denied any role in the bombing and has not been charged, but there is widespread doubt that the two suspects, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, could have acted without his knowledge or direction.

Fear of betrayal by the two suspects may not be what has prevented Kadafi from turning them over, according to Frank Duggan, an attorney representing the American families in a civil lawsuit. Rather, Kadafi may fear domestic political repercussions if he allows the two men to be tried.

If the men are delivered for trial, the U.N. Security Council is expected to lift the sanctions that were imposed in 1992 and tightened in 1993. The council is due to meet on the issue Feb. 26.

U.S. warning

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright warned on Feb. 4 that "if this does not occur by the time those sanctions come up for Security Council review later this month, we will seek additional measures against the Kadafi regime."

Williams and many other members of his organization plan to hold the United States and other members of the Security Council to that pledge. When the sanctions are debated, they will be at the United Nations "en masse," watching.

Pub Date: 2/15/99

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