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France hails Libya jet bomb deal

The signing of the deal ends 15 years of wrangling.
The signing of the deal ends 15 years of wrangling.

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Airline terrorism
Colonel Gadhafi

PARIS, France (CNN) -- France has praised the signing by Libya of a $170 million compensation deal with the families of 170 people killed in a 1989 airliner bombing.

The move to compensate families of those killed when the French UTA flight was bombed over the Niger desert is now expected to clear the way for wider relations between the Libyan government of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi and France.

Victims came from 17 countries, but France, with 54 dead, had the heaviest casualties.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin hailed the declaration on Friday as "an important moment" for bilateral relations.

"We want there to be a progressive normalization of relations between the EU and Libya," de Villepin said at a joint news conference in Paris with his Libyan counterpart.

"As far as the fight against international terrorism, France and Libya want to be even more determined."

He said he two countries will "take into consideration the reintegration of Libya into the international community" as a "rapprochement with Europe."

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgam the incident "should be an opportunity to strengthen relations with France, not weaken them."

One-hundred and seventy people died in the bombing over Niger.

The settlement will provide about $1 million for each victim's family.

Tripoli has taken a number of moves in recent months to re-establish links with the United States and Europe, concluding a compensation deal for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and last month vowing to abandon all programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Applause broke out in Paris after the signing of papers to seal the private deal between the group of victims' families and the Gadhafi International Association for Charitable Organizations, headed by Gadhafi's son, Seif el-Islam.

"I'm certain this will open a new page in Libya's foreign relations," Saleh Abdul Salam, the Gadhafi Foundation's director, said through a translator.

Representatives of the families also hoped for better relations between France and Libya, which has been under U.N. sanctions since it was accused of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing.

"We finally will work towards a reconciliation between our two countries," said Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc, a representative of the families who co-signed the agreement.

"These negotiations have been held in a mutual respect. It is a positive gesture in between the families and the Libyans."

A bank handling the transfer of funds and SOS-Attentat, a group working on behalf of terrorism victims, also signed the private deal.

The agreement was signed after bank officials confirmed that a quarter of the $170 million settlement, $42.5 million, had been paid by the foundation. The balance of the funds must be paid within six months, according to the agreement.

Denoix de Saint Marc told reporters the families were "satisfied" with the settlement, which he said puts to end almost 15 years of grieving.

But some of the victims clearly remained angry. Danielle Klein, who lost a family member in the incident, said Libya had "assassinated" the passengers of the flight.

The 170 families had received $33 million in compensation from Libya in 1989, but they demanded additional compensation when Libya agreed in September to pay $2.7 billion to the families of the 270 victims of the 1988 Pan Am bombing, giving relatives of each victim between $5 million and $10 million.

-- CNN Paris Producers Andrei Brauns and Karine Djili-Bienfait contributed to this story

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