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Wielding Veto Threat, France Delays a U.N. Vote on Libya

World body is to decide Friday on lifting sanctions. A deal to boost payments for victims of a bombed French jet is in limbo.

September 10, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Kara Weipz, 30, has spent half her life seeking justice for her brother, Richard, who died with 269 others when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

On Tuesday, she came to the United Nations, hoping to witness Libya acknowledging responsibility for the bombing and to see the Security Council lift sanctions on the country. But a threatened veto by France, angling to get a larger payment from Libya for victims of a 1989 French airliner bombing, postponed the vote -- and the families' search for closure.

The vote is scheduled for Friday, but French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere warned that France might veto it.

"The French are holding us hostage," Weipz said. "After all the years we've spent to see that Libya pays for its crime, it's not fair to us."

After years of negotiations, Libya agreed to pay up to $10 million to each of the victims' families, and dole out the first $4 million after the U.N. lifts sanctions imposed in 1992. Under the agreement, Libya also agreed to accept responsibility for the attack and renounce terrorism.

The Lockerbie settlement dwarfed a French deal with Libya for the families of 170 people killed in a terrorist attack on a French airliner in 1989. The arrangement gave each family between $3,000 and $30,000 -- "a pittance" compared with the American agreement, De la Sabliere said Tuesday.

Embarrassed French officials reopened the matter with Libya. Last week, Tripoli announced that the nongovernmental Kadafi Foundation, headed by the son of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, would give a "humanitarian donation" to each family, without admitting guilt for the bombing of the UTA airliner. The amount was not specified.

More than 50 relatives of the Lockerbie victims who waited in the Security Council gallery for the formal lifting of the sanctions thought the deal was done.

After entering the chamber, the French ambassador begged for more time, saying that a Libyan official had not yet appeared at a meeting with UTA victims' families and lawyers in Paris to finalize the pact. Without their approval, he said, France must block the vote.

Shouts of frustration and fury from relatives who had traveled from California, Texas and Pennsylvania echoed in the gallery. "Every day, there's a new way to feel pain," said Glenn Johnson III, whose sister Beth Ann died on Flight 103. "This fight for justice has consumed my parents for 15 years, and we hoped it would end today."

So did Security Council diplomats, who have delayed the vote at France's request at least three times since the compensation agreement was reached Aug. 15.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, the current council president, held an unusual "ambassadors only" meeting midday, with no translators or note-takers, and presided over what diplomats later called "frank and angry" talks about France's inflexibility.

After the council agreed to give France three more days to resolve the matter, Jones Parry said: "I don't want to talk about any more delay. The resolution will be voted on Friday."

U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said the United States was "very disappointed" for the families that the vote didn't take place. American officials hinted that the U.S. would abstain from the vote because they did not think Libya had truly renounced terrorism.

The families would receive an additional $4 million after the U.S. lifts its sanctions against Libya, and the final $2 million if the State Department removes the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism -- moves that may be "years away," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the families last month.

Most of the relatives acknowledged they might never see the full $2.7 billion that Libya has placed in a Swiss escrow account.

After a tense meeting with De la Sabliere on Tuesday afternoon, the families said they were sympathetic toward the French families but resented being used as pawns.

"He admitted that they were using all the leverage they could to close the deal. And the leverage is us," said Rosemary Wolfe, whose stepdaughter died in the Lockerbie bombing. "He's admitting to blackmail."

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