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Legal moves on Lockerbie.

The confirmation by a Scottish lawyer that he has been appointed to represent the two Libyans alleged to have perpetrated the Lockerbie bombing has fuelled hopes that Colonel Gaddafi might be moving to hand over the two suspects for trial. In London, however, officials are cautious. They fear that the legal moves might be just another delaying tactic.

The lawyer, Alistair Duff, plans to fly to Libya in "two or three weeks", he said in early September. There, he will be briefed by his clients, Abdul Basset Al Migrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhima - both alleged to be members of Libya's intelligence services.

In the US and Scotland, warrants were issued in November 1991 for the arrest of the two men on charges of murdering 270 people in December 1988 by bombing a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to New York via London.

The aircraft came down in a ball of flames onto the Scottish town of Lockerbie. It is alleged that the bomb was in a suitcase which had been loaded onto the aircraft in Frankfurt, after arriving as unaccompanied baggage on a flight from Malta.

Mr Duff, from the Edinburgh firm McCourt's which specialises in criminal defence work, is no conventional lawyer. Aged 39, he is a member of a Labour Party group reviewing the criminal justice system. He has headed an Aids centre and has served on a special inquiry into riots at Scotland's Peterhead prison.

One reason why the Libyans selected him might be his refreshingly frank views on the failings of the Scottish legal system. "I am not", he has been quoted as saying, "a believer in the notion that to be processed by the criminal system and to be found guilty, or even acquitted, necessarily means that you did, or did not do, that which you are accused of. So I am left cold by verdicts of guilt or, frankly, even verdicts of acquittal".

To date, Colonel Gaddafi has resolutely refused to hand over the two men for trial in Scotland or the US, arguing that the whole affair is merely the latest Western plot to undermine his regime and asserting, with more justification, that Libya anyway has no extradition treaty with either London or Washington.

In a bid to persuade the Colonel to change his mind, the UN Security Council last April imposed sanctions against Libya, banning arms supplies, flights to and from the country and the supply of aviation - related equipment.

The measures were also designed to force Tripoli to co-operate with a French investigation into the bombing of a French aircraft over Niger in 1989, in which 171 people died.

While on one hand condemning the sanctions, Libya on the other hand made a series of a gestures aimed at appeasing its adversaries but above all at buying time in the hope that the men for trial in a neutral country; to underline its abandonment of terrorism, Libya has provided London with information on its past support for the IRA.

The West's determination has not wavered, and the Arab and Third World support that Qadhafi had counted on has never materialised. Last month, Britain, the US and France formally warned that unless the two suspects were handed over, they would introduce a Security Council resolution on October 1 tightening the sanctions by banning the supply to Libya of oil industry equipment and by freezing Libyan foreign assets.

Analysts agree that the timing of Mr Duff's appointment is no coincidence, although its real meaning is disputed. Some believe that the step indicates that Colonel Qadhafi is finally bowing to the inevitable, and has decided to hand over the two suspects, regardless of the dangerous impact that might have on the morale of the security apparatus upon which his rule depends.

Others are more sceptical. They suspect that Mr Duff s appointment might just be Libya's latest attempt to stall progress. They note that the lawyer's trip to Libya will coincide with the new UN resolution. They fear that the Libyans might be seeking to avert wider sanctions by portraying themselves as being on the brink of complying with the existing UN demands.

What is certain is that after two years of procrastination, bluff, feint, falsehood and threat, no-one in Whitehall looks prepared to give Colonel Gaddafi the benefit of the doubt. "Only one thing will cause us to take notice", said a Foreign Office spokesman. "And that is a clear, unequivocal statement from Gaddafi or from someone in his immediate circle to the effect that Tripoli intends to comply with UN resolutions and hand over the two suspects for trial".
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Title Annotation:trial of the two Libyans responsible for Lockerbie bombing
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Hail to the chief.
Next Article:Claiming the credit.

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