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UK minister seeks Libyan support

Gadhafi
Gadhafi's help is being sought by West  


TRIPOLI, Libya -- The first UK minister to set foot on Libyan soil in nearly 20 years is set to discuss possible support for the war against terror and the prospect for any military attack against Iraq.

Foreign minister Mike O'Brien is due to leave for Libya on Tuesday for a three-day visit that is expected to cover old contentious ground such as Lockerbie as well as possible new cooperation on issues such as the fight against al Qaeda.

O'Brien is earmarked to meet Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Gadhafi for talks, though no official schedule has been confirmed.

The trip is the latest incident in the gradual thawing of relations between the two countries since they were broken off following the shooting of British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher in 1983, and the damaging diplomatic effect of the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 people died.

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Lockerbie appeal 
 

Diplomatic relations were only resumed in 1999 when an ambassador returned to Tripoli after Libya compensated Fletcher's parents. The situation was also improved after Gadhafi agreed to hand over the Libyan officials suspected of the Lockerbie bombing.

O'Brien told the UK's Press Association before his departure: "My message for the Libyan leadership is that we want to see further progress on the outstanding issues between us on terrorism and on weapons of mass destruction."

The minister is seeking to enlist Gadhafi on the war on terror by asking him to provide the West with intelligence on al Qaeda. It is a sign of how Gadhafi's international standing has changed from his one-time image as sponsorer of terrorism and funder of the Irish Republican Army.

The visit comes amid mounting speculation that U.S. President George W. Bush is planning a military attack on Iraq to replace its leader Saddam Hussein. O'Brien is expected to sound out Libya's position on any such strike.

'Encouragement rather than isolation'

The minister added: "A Libya which co-operates fully with the international community, including on terrorism, is very much in our interests.

"Our judgement is that in the case of Libya we are more likely to achieve this by encouragement rather than isolation.

"My visit comes after four years of critical engagement with Libya, and engagement that has produced results."

WPC Fletcher was shot dead outside the Libyan People's Bureau in London. The shots had been fired from within the embassy.

Relatives of the Lockerbie victims are still pursuing compensation from the Libyan government after the conviction of one of two suspects tried in a special court held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

Libyan official Abdel Baset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi was sentenced to 20 years in January, 2001, for his involvement in the plane bomb incident. His co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty.

O'Brien has said though that compensation is a matter that must be resolved between Libya and lawyers for the families.

The Libyan leader has agreed to pay compensation despite denying responsibility for the bombing -- a key condition he must meet before U.N. sanctions, which are currently suspended, are fully lifted.

The Libyan foreign ministry maintains its "unwavering belief that" Al-Megrahi is innocent and that he was a "political prisoner" because the case had been politically motivated by the United States and Britain. Al-Megrahi lost an appeal in March this year.



 
 
 
 






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