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The BBC's James Robbins in Tripoli
"It was not a huge demonstration of popular anger"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 18:09 GMT
What next for Libya?

Colonel Gaddafi: Many believe he is to blame
By BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

The three Scottish judges who found Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi guilty said they believed he was a fairly senior officer of Libyan intelligence and that the bomb attack was a Libyan plot.

In the minds of American relatives of the Lockerbie victims and for many others too, the conviction of Abdelbasset Al Megrahi is tantamount to the conviction of Colonel Gaddafi of Libya.

A common reaction is that the Libyan leader was the real culprit, the godfather in this act of state-sponsored terrorism.

Supporters of this argument say the verdict confirms that the Libyan government is beyond the pale and should remain there.

Sanctions remain

In other words, there should be no outright lifting of United Nations sanctions which have already been suspended.

bdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi
Megrahi's conviction is seen by many as tantamount to Gaddafi's conviction
That is not, however, the argument being advanced by the United States and Britain - although the American line may be presented in a slightly harder way.

The sanctions were suspended as part of a political deal in return for the two Libyans accused being handed over for trial.

The conditions for lifting the sanctions permanently were set out in a Security Council resolution several years ago, which endorsed demands made by the Western powers.

In essence, Libya still has to accept responsibility for the actions of Libyan officials and pay appropriate compensation to the victims' families.

That is the formula used by President George Bush in his first reaction to the verdicts.

It was echoed by British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who added the requirement for Libya to abandon terrorism definitively.

Commercial interests

British officials say there's no recent evidence of Libya being involved in terrorist acts.

While understanding the reaction of those who think Libya should continue to be ostracised, the officials argue the best strategy is to engage with the Libyans to make sure they do not return to the ways of the past.

It is obvious to all that commercial interests, especially oil and gas, are also pushing in that direction.

The British government expects to hold discussions with the Libyans to work out a formula for lifting UN sanctions. What the United States decides to do about its own economic embargo against Libya is another matter.

That is a difficult issue on which the Bush administration's political instincts may clash with the interests of American oil companies.

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