U.S. to meet Libyans after Pan Am verdict

By United Press International  |  March 14, 2002 at 8:37 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 14 (UPI) -- The United States and United Kingdom plan to send envoys to confer with Libyan officials after a Scottish court Thursday upheld the conviction of a Libyan intelligence agent sentenced to life in prison for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

"We will go see the Libyans in the near future," a senior State Department official told reporters Thursday. The official said no schedule had been set, but indicated the meeting will be held in the coming weeks. The meeting will be the third in the last year. The last meeting among British, American and Libyan officials was on Jan. 10.

"The focus of these meetings was Libya's compliance with U.N. Security Council requirements and our urging Libya to comply with those requirements as soon as possible," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Thursday. "We have also told the Libyans that we can't even have a serious discussion of the bilateral issues between the United States and Libya . . . until they have fully cleared this U.N. account, until they've fully complied with the U.N. requirements."

A five-judge panel on Thursday said none of the grounds for appeal were well-founded and refused to overturn the conviction of a Libyan national charged with the 1988 bombing of a jetliner over Scotland in which 270 people were killed.

The decision upheld the conviction of Ali al-Megrahi, 49, one of two Libyans charged with the plot that led to the crash of the Boeing 747 jetliner onto the Scottish village of Lockerbie. The trial was conducted at Camp Zeist in The Netherlands under Scottish law.

"We all concur that none of the grounds of the appeal are well-founded. This brings the procedures to an end," said Presiding Judge William Douglas Cullen.

The White House applauded the verdict Thursday. "The United States government welcomes the decision of the Scottish High Court of the Judiciary sitting in the Netherlands to uphold the conviction of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said. "We reiterate the need for the government of Libya to move quickly to satisfy its remaining obligations under the U.N. Security Council resolutions related to the bombing of Pam Am Flight 103."

Megrahi was found guilty on Jan. 31, 2001, of planting the bomb and a second Libyan, Lamen Khalifa Fahima, was acquitted of the charges. Megrahi received a life sentence mandatory for murder under Scottish law and it was recommended he serve at least 20 years. He immediately appealed his conviction.

Megrahi, who has spent the entire trial and appeal period at Camp Zeist, will be transferred to Scotland to serve a sentence of life in prison.

Libyan lawyers, including the chairman of the Libyan Bar Association, Hafid Jhoja, described the judgment as "political."

"The trial was a political matter, not a legal matter. There was no clear evidence, as the whole world knows. All the Libyan people, all Arab people, are upset by this judgment," he said. He added an appeal will be made to the Libyan Human Rights Court.

In the appeal, which began in January, lawyers for Megrahi argued the trial court had not properly weighed the evidence and there had been a miscarriage of justice.

The defense introduced new evidence of a break-in in the baggage area of London's Heathrow Airport only a few hours before Pan Am Flight 103 took off. They suggested the suitcase bomb could have been loaded at Heathrow and not in Malta as the original trial court had been told.

In the three-week appeal court hearing, defense lawyers sought to discredit witnesses who testified Megrahi had bought clothes in Malta, which investigators said had been packed around the bomb in a suitcase.

A total of 259 people on Pam Am Flight 103 from London to New York died Dec. 21, 1988, when a bomb went off on the aircraft. Another 11 people on the ground were killed by falling debris.

A lengthy international investigation led authorities to Megrahi and Fahima. After nearly a decade of negotiations with Libya, the pair was handed over on the condition they be tried under Scottish law. A special courtroom was set up on a former U.S. military base in The Netherlands, which for the purpose of the trial was considered Scottish territory.

Megrahi and Fahima arrived at Camp Zeist in April 1999 and their trial began 13 months later. The 84-day trial, which included several lengthy continuances, ended Jan. 31, 2000, with the verdict against Megrahi.

Megrahi still can appeal to the Privy Council in Scotland but must ask the case be opened under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Thursday's decision likely increases pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to pay promised compensation to the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims in order for sanctions imposed by the United States on the North African country to be lifted.

(With reporting by Eli Lake in Washington and Chris White at Camp Zeist)

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