Libya agrees to UTA bombing deal

By ELIZABETH BRYANT, United Press International  |  Jan. 9, 2004 at 3:25 PM
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PARIS, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Libya Friday signed a $170 million agreement in Paris with families of the victims of the 1989 French UTA airliner bombing over the Sahara desert.

"This is an important moment, which opens new perspectives for relations between our two countries," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters, referring to the deal signed between a private Libyan foundation and the victims' families after months of negotiations.

"This agreement has significantly helped resolve this sad affair," de Villepin added, during a joint news conference with his Libyan counterpart, Abdurrahman Shalgham.

A joint statement Friday, signed by the two diplomats, says the two countries would work together on matters such as strengthening African development, and for peace, stability and the respect for international law.

Earlier, a separate agreement was inked in Paris between the UTA victims' families and the Gadhafi Foundation, run by the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The deal stipulates the families will get $1 million each beyond compensation paid out earlier for the bombing.

Those families who were not previously compensated in the first round would be paid that money as well. The foundation is expected to make the payments in 6 months.

The deal is considerably less than a separate Libyan payout to families of victims of the 1988 Lockerbie downing, and lawyers of some of the UTA plaintiffs complained. But others hailed it as a virtual confession of Tripoli's responsibility in the bombing.

A French court convicted six Libyans in absentia for the bombing, including Gadhafi's brother. But Libya has denied any involvement. Foreign Minister Shalgham continued that tact in Paris, as he called it a "sad accident," and denied the country had ever committed acts of terrorism.

But he added, the UTA crash "has become a pretext to reinforce French and Libyan relations, not a way to weaken them."

The UTA deal comes a month after Libya agreed to renounce efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, following a flurry of secret talks spearheaded by the United States. The move has been hailed by the international community, and marks a major step toward ending Tripoli's years-long diplomatic isolation.

Some pundits offer a mix of economic and political motives behind overtures by Gadhafi's overtures, but many also wonder how long he will stick to them.

Friday's agreements also offers Paris a mediating role in returning Libya to the international fold, after apparently being left out of the negotiations to coax Tripoli into renouncing its weapons of mass destruction program.

De Villepin said France would help Libya begin to slowly normalize relations with the European Union, providing an agreement was reached in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub. Two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish woman were killed in the blast, which was also blamed on Tripoli. Ten days later, the United States bombed Libya.

"This renewed relation must be founded on clarity and confidence," de Villepin said. "Our two countries must work together in the double perspective of reintegrating Libya in the heart of the international community, and in its rapprochement with Europe."

Separately, Shalgham denied reports of a secret meeting in December between Libyan and Israeli officials in Europe. The meeting has been widely reported by the Israeli media, and confirmed by a senior Israeli official.

But Shalgham dismissed the report as mere "lies" and "rumors."

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