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U.N. Closes In on Final Lockerbie Settlement

August 15, 2003|Maggie Farley and Janet Stobart | Times Staff Writers

UNITED NATIONS — After agreeing to pay families of the Pan Am flight that was destroyed in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Libya has also consented to increase compensation to families of victims in the blowing up of a French airliner a year later, diplomats said Thursday.

France had threatened to oppose lifting international sanctions on Libya unless the North African nation increased payments to the relatives of the 171 people who died when a UTA airliner was destroyed over the Sahara Desert in 1989. Libya has already paid families in that case compensation ranging from $3,378 to $33,780.

The families of the 270 who died when Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed over Lockerbie will get as much as $10 million each, according to the agreement signed Wednesday.

"The Libyans feel a moral duty to close this issue," said a U.N. Security Council diplomat. "The French won't get as much money as the Americans, but [the Libyans] want to close the gap a little."

The diplomat cautioned that negotiations and Thursday's blackout in New York might delay the process leading to a final settlement.

Earlier, the French had insisted that Libya increase its payments.

"In the interest of fairness, we would like a complementary settlement to be made very rapidly between Libya and eligible parties among the families of the victims of the UTA flight," a French government spokesman had said in a faxed statement.

"It is clear that such a solution is, for France, an essential condition for the definitive lifting of sanctions against Libya," the statement said.

Security Council diplomats said France threatened to use its veto to prevent the sanctions from being lifted.

Britain, which had planned to introduce a measure to lift the sanctions early next week, hinted that the French might get a little more time to work out their objections. James P. Kreindler, a lawyer who has represented the family members of Lockerbie victims for 15 years, attended the signing of the compensation agreement in London. Libya agreed to put $2.7 billion in an escrow account at the Bank of International Settlements in Switzerland. The fund would be paid out in three stages.

First, Libya must take formal responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in a letter to the Security Council. That was expected to arrive today.

Once the U.S. and Britain acknowledge the letter, the council can move to lift sanctions. Libya will pay each family $4 million after those sanctions are lifted, an additional $4 million after U.S. sanctions are lifted, and, if the U.S. State Department removes Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, the families will receive the final $2 million.

After the Lockerbie bombing, the Security Council imposed sanctions against Libya, blocking trade in some types of oil equipment and arms. The United States banned the import of Libyan oil and some exports to Libya in 1982. Those sanctions were tightened after the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco to include a total ban on direct import and export trade and on commercial contracts.

Not all Lockerbie relatives were overjoyed by the prospect of compensation.

John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter, Helga, was among the passengers, expressed qualified appreciation for the money offered to each family.

"One hopes it will bring some sort of closure," he said. But, he stressed, the compensation was not sought by the families, who knew nothing about it until several years ago. "It came from the United Nations."

For the 30 or so British family members who meet about twice a year, "there are bigger issues," said Mosey, an evangelical minister of the Assemblies of God in Britain and a director of a relief agency that works in the Third World.

"We feel there is no forum for big questions like why was this [flight] allowed to happen when there was so much intelligence -- about fourteen warnings -- many of them explicit?"

*

Farley reported from the United Nations and Stobart from London.

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