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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 12:17 GMT
Libya signs UTA bombing payout
Libyan representative Saleh Abdul Salam (left) shakes hands with families' representative Guillaume Denoix de Saint-Marc
Guillaume Denoix de Saint-Marc (2nd right) said scars can now heal
Relatives of 170 victims of the bombing of a French airliner in 1989 have signed a $170m payout deal with Libya.

Families and representatives of a fund run by the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi met in Paris to agree the plan.

The settlement is the latest move by Libya to mend ties with the West, but the amount is far below that offered to relatives of Lockerbie victims.

Libya has always denied involvement in the attack on the UTA plane, which blew up in mid-air over the Sahara.

The dead included citizens of more than a dozen countries.

The agreement follows Libya's unexpected announcement last month that it had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme.

Tripoli has since allowed the United Nations nuclear watchdog (IAEA) to carry out inspections of its nuclear facilities.

April 1999: Libya hands over suspects in bombing of Pan Am flight over Lockerbie
January 2002: The US and Libya reveal they are in talks to improve relations
August 2003: Relatives of Lockerbie victims agree $2.7bn payout from Libya; Tripoli takes responsibility for the bombing
September 2003: UN Security Council votes to lift sanctions
December 2003: Libya announces it will halt programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction
December 2003: UN nuclear inspectors begin checks

Libya's Foreign Minister, Abdel Rahman Shalgham, is in Paris ahead of a scheduled meeting with French President Jacques Chirac.

"This accord shows that Libya is changing, has changed," said Guillaume Denoix de Saint-Marc, who lost his father in the attack and who helped lead the negotiations for the compensation.

"We're happy to have succeeded... the scar will always remain, but at least it has healed," he said.

The $1m-per-victim deal, clinched late on Thursday, is far smaller than the $2.7bn promised to the families of the 270 people killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland.

But Mr Denoix de Saint-Marc said much of the Lockerbie cash would be taken up by legal fees and taxes and consequently the amount received by families of the UTA victims would not be so different.

The $170m is expected to be shared among families of victims of 17 nationalities who were on board the UTA plane when it exploded over the west African state of Niger.

Innocence maintained

Tripoli has never accepted responsibility for the bombing - despite the conviction of six Libyan officials tried in absentia by a French court in 1999.

Wreckage of UTA DC10 blown up over Niger in 1989 (archive)
France: 54
Congo: 50
Chad: 38
US: 7
UK: 4
Libya refused to extradite the six - who include Colonel Gaddafi's brother-in-law - and has always maintained their innocence.

However, it agreed to pay out $33m demanded by the French court in compensation.

That amount was deemed insufficient after the Lockerbie deal was agreed and France demanded a more "equitable" settlement for families of those killed in the UTA bombing.

In September, France, which lost 54 of its nationals in the attack, threatened to block a United Nations resolution ending sanctions against Libya over the Lockerbie bombing unless a similar compensation deal was agreed for the UTA attack, but later lifted the threat.

Libya in turn warned it could pull out of talks over compensation for the UTA bombing, after it said France was failing to honour a secret agreement to compensate for the deaths of three Libyan pilots killed when France intervened in the civil war in Chad in the 1980s.

The BBC's Fiona Werge
"Talks over a final settlement went down to the wire"

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