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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 22:27 GMT

World: Middle East

Libya set to discuss Lockerbie trial

270 people died in the bombing over Scotland a decade ago

Libya's top government institution, the General People's Congress, is sitting for its regular session in the coastal town of Sirte.

It is expected to make a further move towards the handing over of two Libyans charged with the Lockerbie airliner bombing.

The BBC's Barnaby Mason: "There are still many uncertainties"
The delegates have invited Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to address the meeting in the coastal town of Sirte, but his attendance is not yet confirmed.

A debate on the future of the Lockerbie suspects is likely to follow other business in the congress session which is expected to last more than a week.

[ image:  ]
The congress usually meets once or twice a year for several days to endorse Colonel Gaddafi's decisions. It also discusses foreign, internal, economic and social policies, adopt laws and the budget, and names a new government.

The meeting comes after a weekend visit to Libya by UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to try to arrange the handing over of the two suspects with Colonel Gaddafi.

"We have made positive progress. We are on our way to resolving the issue," Mr Annan said.

He said the Libyans "understand the realities" of the case but had their own mechanisms for consulting and deciding.

[ image: Mr Annan was
Mr Annan was "cautiously optimistic" after his Libyan trip
The United States and Britain are pressing for the surrender of two alleged Libyan intelligence agents accused of the bombing.

They have agreed to Libya's demand that the trial be held on neutral ground in the Netherlands and are keen to see the two men turned over before the 10th anniversary of the bombing on 21 December.

The BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason, who is in Tripoli, says some observers think there will be a substantial move, perhaps a statement in favour of the handover.

Our correspondent says Libya desperately wants to be fully reintegrated into the international community and is convinced that the offer made by the UK and the US is the only way of getting humiliating UN sanctions lifted.

But he says agreeing to a deal still has risks for Colonel Gaddafi and Libyans remain suspicious, especially in the case of the United States, that there is some trick or hidden conspiracy behind the offer.

Britain has adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Libya than the United States, indicating that a handover would make the restoration of normal diplomatic relations possible.

By contrast, the United States has enforced its own sweeping economic sanctions against Libya, and in 1986 its aircraft came close to killing Colonel Gaddafi in a bombing raid to retaliate for a bomb attack blamed on Libya.

The correspondent says that even if agreement does emerge from the congress, the handover is unlikely to follow in time for the anniversary.

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