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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 12:10 GMT
Analysis: Gaddafi keeps West guessing
gadaffi
Mixed messages: Colonel Gaddafi and acquitted Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima
By Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner in Tripoli

It must be an exciting job working for the Libyan Government.

Surprise would always be just around the corner, as the line you thought you were supposed to be taking suddenly becomes out of date.

Take, for example, the guilty verdict handed down to a Libyan Government official convicted of mass murder in the long-running Lockerbie trial.

Some of Libya's more urbane, English-speaking diplomats expressed their unhappiness at the verdict, but they all said they respected the Scottish justice system that issued the sentence.

"Now that this case is behind us", said the assistant Foreign Minister, Hassoun Al-Shawish, we look forward to improving our relations with the US."

Megrahi
Al Megrahi: Jailed for life
And then, out of the blue, the country's all-powerful leader, Colonel Gaddafi, appeared within days to say the opposite.

He announced that he had new evidence to disprove the guilty verdict, which he said was made anyway under pressure from America.

This revelation came as a surprise to even quite senior Libyan officials. It was followed by virulent, anti-western rhetoric in the state-run media.


Behind all the rhetoric, a compromise will have to be found

All of this leaves western governments wondering if Libya really wants to have good relations with the West.

The truth is that it does, but not at the expense of its pride. Libya still denies any government connection with the Lockerbie bombing.

Libyans say that, if the West wants some sort of public apology for what happened 13 years ago, it's likely to be disappointed.

When it comes to the issue of compensation for relatives of the Lockerbie victims, Libya is again sending out mixed signals.

In a BBC interview, Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Shalqam said his government would never accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing.

Compensation 'racism'

To even discuss compensation, he said, was a form of racism.

He pointed out that no one had compensated the Libyan victims of American air raids here 15 years ago, implying that it was unfair to expect Libya now to be the one to pay up.

Twenty-four hours later, Libya's ambassador to London, Mohammed Al-Zwai, took a much more conciliatory line.

He said that once the result of the expected appeal against the guilty verdict on Al Megrahi was known, then compensation could be discussed. He reiterated Libya's intention to fulfil its duties to the UN Security Council.

And then, within hours, it was back to the hard line once more, as Colonel Gaddafi ignored journalists' questions on compensation for the Lockerbie victims.

Pariah state

Instead, he called for Libya to be repaid for the years of UN sanctions imposed in 1992 and only suspended since 1999.

Unravelling all of these various messages is the task now facing diplomats.

Some of Libya's more fiery statements are intended to impress its own people. Others aim to keep the door open for better relations with the West.

But behind all the rhetoric, a compromise will have to be found that satisfies all three governments.

Nobody, either here in Tripoli, or at the British Foreign Office in London, wants to see Libya return to being the unpredictable pariah state it was in the past.


Full verdicts
Lockerbie opinion posted by Scots Court Service
Lockerbie megapuff graphic

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01 Feb 01 | In Depth
01 Feb 01 | In Depth
01 Feb 01 | Media reports
01 Feb 01 | In Depth
01 Feb 01 | In Depth
01 Feb 01 | In Depth
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