A most unusual terrorism trial

Lockerbie bombing: Kadafi agents face Scottish justice on Dutch soil to end U.N. sanctions on Libya.

April 07, 1999

SANCTIONS, placed on a rogue regime by the world community for an attainable goal, can work.

The delivery of Libyan intelligence officers Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima to United Nations custody testifies to that.

The U.N. sanctions placed on Libya starting in 1992 in all likelihood will end formally in three months. Whatever the role of dictator Muammar el Kadafi in the bombing of a Berlin nightclub favored by U.S. soldiers in 1986, the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 in 1988 and the bombing of a French airliner over Niger the next year, Libya's pariah status largely ended when the two suspects were handed over. Unilateral U.S. sanctions remain but cannot be effective alone.

The trial -- in the Netherlands at a hastily arranged Scottish jail at an abandoned U.S. air base -- is to begin 110 days after arraignment and will be heard by three Scottish judges, no jury. The proceedings could take a year or two. Evidence gathered by intelligence and police services, which led to British and U.S. accusations against the defendants in 1991, is voluminous.

This is a step forward without precedent in globalization. What led to it was Colonel Kadafi's suggestion that he would agree to trial in a neutral country, and the British-U.S. agreement in principle last year. The diplomacy of Nelson Mandela, the 80-year-old outgoing president of South Africa, made it happen.

This gesture does not erase the evil aura of Colonel Kadafi for the families of the Lockerbie victims. Whether the evidence will incriminate or absolve other regimes remains to be seen.

But a trial for international terrorism is going forward, and a major source of tension between Washington and the Arab world has been removed.

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