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Monday, April 5, 1999 Published at 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK


Lockerbie suspects head for trial

The two suspects have arrived in the Netherlands

The two men suspected of the Lockerbie airline bombing more than 10 years ago have arrived in the Netherlands to face trial.

As a result the UN Security Council has suspended sanctions against Libya.

The men were finally handed over into the custody of United Nations officials at Tripoli airport on Monday morning.

During the handover ceremony, suspected bomber Abdel Baset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi told Libyan television that he and his co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, were going to prove their innocence to the world.

The two men gestured with victory signs as they boarded the plane bound for the Netherlands, escorted by the UN's chief legal adviser, Hans Corell.

End of sanctions in sight

Kofi Annan: Security Council will act to suspend sanctions
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has welcomed the surrender of the suspects.

"I am looking forward to the earliest possible resumption of Libya's relations with the rest of the international community," Mr Annan told a news conference in New York.

The UN imposed sanctions on Libya for its refusal to surrender the two men.

Footage of the suspects' handover to the UN in Libya
United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Robin Cook described the handover of the suspects as "an historic moment".

"It is the end of a 10-year diplomatic stalemate, and it justifies the initiative we launched last year for a trial in a third country."

The US described the handover as a "positive step."

"This is clearly welcome news, although long overdue," White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said.

[ image:  ]
The two suspects are expected to be tried before Scottish judges, in a specially-convened court at the Camp Zeist airbase near Utrecht.

Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in 1988, and a large piece of the fuselage fell onto the Scottish town.

The crash killed 259 people on board the plane, and another 11 on the ground.

Years of wrangling

Joshua Rozenberg reports: "A remarkable diplomatic compromise"
The handover of the two men is the culmination of a decade of diplomatic efforts to find a solution which would satisfy the governments of Libya, the UK and the United States.

Western governments and the families of those killed in the bombing have maintained that a Libyan trial would not ensure a fair hearing.

Tripoli did not want the suspects to be sent to the UK.

Barnaby Mason: "Many thought this would not happen"
Setting up a temporary Scottish court on the soil of a third country was put forward as a compromise solution.

The deal was eventually clinched with the intervention of leaders from South Africa, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Mother's relief

Jane Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing, said she was "very relieved" at the news of the handover.

"Obviously nothing can bring back the precious people that we have lost and that still hurts," Mrs Swire said.

"At least this is a good message for the world. People who are accused of wicked crimes like this are brought to justice."

Unique arrangement

The trial arrangements are said to be unprecedented in legal history, since they involve the establishment of a temporary court under the jurisdiction of one country, within the borders of another country.

After the suspects arrive in the Netherlands, they will have to be extradited from Dutch to Scottish custody, and the Zeist airbase has temporarily been declared Scottish territory.

The suspects must face a preliminary hearing within two days.

The trial should begin within 110 days, but given the complexities of the case, the defence is bound to request a postponement meaning the trial may not start for many months.

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