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Libya Disputes Official's Rejection of Lockerbie Blame

THE WORLD

February 26, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Libya contradicted its prime minister Wednesday and affirmed that it was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

The assertion by Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem that Libya had not acknowledged the attack that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans, put on hold U.S. plans to lift nearly three decades of restrictions on American travel to the country.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and spokesmen for the White House and State Department said Wednesday that they had not concluded their assessment of the Libyan retraction. As a result, a White House announcement on lifting the travel curbs remained on hold.

The Libyan statement, which appeared on the website of the official news agency Jana, said Tripoli had helped bring two suspects to justice "and accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials."

Referring to the statement Tuesday by Ghanem, the news agency said "recent statements contradicting or casting doubt on these positions are inaccurate and regrettable."

In an August letter to the U.N. Security Council, Libya acknowledged its responsibility for the bombing.

But hours before the White House was to announce that U.S. citizens would be allowed to travel to Libya, Ghanem said in a BBC interview that his government recently agreed to pay $2.7 billion to victims' families in an effort to improve relations with the West and to secure the lifting of U.N. sanctions.

"We thought that it was easier for us to buy peace, and this is why we agreed to compensation," he said in the interview.

The news agency's statement Wednesday suggested that Libya was trying to comply with the U.S. request that it retract Ghanem's remarks.

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