Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi appears increasingly eager to buy his country’s way out of pariah-hood. The North African nation could soon see more open relations with the West after striking a deal with France for increased compensation to victims of the 1989 bombing of a French airliner over Niger. The papers say the move paves the way for the U.N. Security Council to lift sanctions on Libya.
Papers reported that following recent negotiations—including at least two phone calls to Qaddafi by French President Jacques Chirac over the past week—Libya has agreed in principle to increase compensation to the families of the 170 people killed in the UTA bombing. French officials said the signing of a formal agreement is imminent. Qaddafi, clearly anxious to put the matter of these pesky airline bombings to rest, was quoted in Britain’s Daily Telegraph saying, “The problem over the UTA case is over and the Lockerbie case is behind us. We are opening a new page in our relations with the West.”
France’s conservative daily Le Figaro reported that Libya’s agreement last month to pay $2.7 billion to the families of the Lockerbie bombing victims spurred France to seek a better deal in the UTA case. The Lockerbie package dwarfed an earlier $33 million agreement for the UTA victims’ relatives, which amounted to about $194,000 per family. Following the Lockerbie deal, Britain was set to draft a resolution calling for U.N. sanctions on Libya to be lifted, but France threatened to veto, holding out for a more equitable deal for the UTA victims.
According to the Guardian, Libya is still reluctant to admit responsibility for the UTA bombing, and the additional compensation would come not from the government but from a charitable organization run by Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam. The exact amount of the compensation bump has yet to be disclosed, but Johannesburg’s Mail & Guardian claimed that Tripoli offered each family an additional $300,000. The Mail & Guardian also reported that Britain, which twice delayed its motion to lift U.N. sanctions, said it is likely to table a resolution this week, “because it could not hold off indefinitely and risk jeopardising its own hard-fought deal for the 270 victims of the 1988 PanAm bombing over Lockerbie.”
The Guardian looked to the global implications of Libya’s new status, reporting that British firms hoping to do business in post-Saddam Iraq “are switching their attention to Libya as a more promising market.” A British expert on trade with the Middle East told the paper, “There is a lot of enthusiasm for Libya … particularly because the Iraqi market is not proving as accessible as we had hoped.” The Guardian said the lifting of U.N. sanctions “is seen as partly symbolic,” since U.S. sanctions remain in place, but a lifting of the U.N. embargo could put pressure on the United States to change its policy. Families of the Lockerbie victims stand to gain substantially more if U.S. sanctions are lifted, more still if the United States drops Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, according to the terms of the agreement.
Some victims’ relatives remain apprehensive about Libya’s buying favor with the international community while failing to assume full responsibility for the bombings. The brother of one UTA victim told the Telegraph, “What the Libyans are saying in effect is, ‘Sign up, chums—then we’ll talk about payment.’ … We should be in no hurry to remove them [sanctions] if the time isn’t right.”