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World - Africa

Annan leaves Libya without securing handover of bombing suspects

In this story:

December 5, 1998
Web posted at: 7:55 p.m. EST (0055 GMT)

TRIPOLI, Libya (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he had "fruitful and positive" talks with Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi on Saturday, but he did not announce a breakthrough in his bid for the surrender of suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The U.N. leader returned to the Libyan capital Tripoli after he had to travel to an impromptu meeting with Gadhafi at an undisclosed location.

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Lockerbie

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Libyan Television showed footage of Annan getting out of a jeep in semi-darkness and going into a huge tent in the desert protected by Gadhafi's personal bodyguards.

"Libya has also agreed to a trial in a third country and believes that it ought to be possible to find answers to all other outstanding issues relating to this matter," Annan said back in Tripoli.

An official with the Tripoli government echoed Annan's views.

"It will require some time but not an inordinate amount," said Libyan Foreign Affairs Minister Omar Mustapha al-Montasser. A resolution of the Lockerbie dispute would "not take long" and the Libyan parliament would meet on Tuesday to weigh the matter, he said.

A U.N. spokesman said that while Annan met with Gadhafi, other members of the U.N. delegation remained behind in the coastal town of Sirte.

Libyran leader initially unavailable for talks

According to Libyan news sources, Gadhafi initially was unavailable for the talks because he was "in the desert away from the region" of Sirte

Annan's plane flew from the Tunisian resort island of Djerba to the Libyan capital of Tripoli early Saturday. He then traveled on a Libyan plane to Sirte, a northern coastal town 280 miles (450 km) east of Tripoli where he spoke with Libyan Foreign Minister Omar Mustapha al-Montasser and Libyan U.N. ambassador Abuzed Omar Dorda.

Fhimah and al-Megrahi
Fhimah, left, al-Megrahi  

Libya has been under United Nations sanctions since 1992 for refusing to hand over Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, reported Libyan agents charged in the bombing of Pam Am flight airliner that went down in the Scottish village of Lockerbie nearly 10 years ago.

A total of 270 died in the crash on December 21, 1988.

If surrendered to the Netherlands, the suspects would go to trial before Scottish judges and the embargo would be suspended automatically.

The United Nations has arranged to have an aircraft standing by in Italy that could travel to Libya to pick up the suspects on 24 hours notice, diplomats in New York said.

Gadhafi role in final decision questioned

Libya warned Friday that Gadhafi would not be able to sign a deal to extradite the men when he met Annan.

Lockerbie: Key facts

December 21, 1988: Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing all 259 people on board, as well as 11 residents on the ground. The flight was en route to New York from Frankfurt, Germany, via London.

November 14, 1991: After an investigation concludes that a bomb downed the airliner, Scotland obtains a warrant for the arrest of two Libyans, Abdel Baset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, on charges of conspiracy and murder. The United States issues a similar indictment.

April 1992: The United Nations imposes sanctions on air travel and arms sales to Libya, over Libya's refusal to hand the suspects over for trial in a Scottish court.

April 1998: Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi suggests he will hand over the two suspects for trial by a Scottish judge in a neutral country.

August 1998: Britain and the United States make an abrupt about-face and publicly propose that the suspects be tried in the Netherlands.

November 1988: Dutch authorities set aside a former air force base for the trial at Camp Zeist near Utrecht. Gadhafi still refuses to surrender the suspects, however, over the question of where they will serve their sentences if found guilty. Libya refuses to allow them to be jailed in Scotland, but Britain insists on a Scottish prison.

The diplomatic editor of the official Libyan news agency JANA, which usually reflects Gadhafi's view, insisted Gadhafi was not a head of state or government under Libya's constitution and that only the Libyan people could decide such matters -- through their "popular committees."

The comment suggested that any decision to hand over the suspects had to be formally approved by some 500 grassroots committees around the country and then by parliament.

Hours into Annan's visit, Libyan state radio reported that the General People's Congress, the country's top legislative and executive body that is to formally endorse any decision on the Lockerbie issue, had been summoned for Tuesday

Jail terms must be in Scotland, Britain says

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had a 15-minute telephone conversation with Annan Saturday before the start of Annan's mission.

Cook's ministry said the Anglo-American offer of a trial in a third country was genuine and serious and that there was no hidden agenda. But he said there had been no relaxation of a key demand over which Libya has balked.

"The key point on which we are insisting is that, if convicted, the suspects would have to serve sentences in a Scottish prison," a spokesman said.

"But we are happy to put in place international observer structures to confirm that they were being treated properly."

Libyan state television said Annan also had met Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore in Sirte about the Lockerbie affair.

Compaore, current chairman of the Organization of African Unity who had been in Libya since Thursday for talks, "reaffirmed during the meeting Africa's permanent support for Libya in the so-called Lockerbie affair," state television said.

Correspondent Gayle Young and Reuters contributed to this report.



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