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Sunday, 14 July, 2002, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
Lockerbie relatives 'accept prison move'
Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela spoke to the media after the meeting
Victims' relatives have told Nelson Mandela that they would not object to the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing serving his sentence in another country.

The former South African president met families of those who died in the attack in London on Sunday.

Last month he said Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi - the man convicted of the attack - should be allowed to serve his sentence in a Muslim country after meeting him in Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison.


I was responsible and I cannot wash my hands now that he is convicted

Nelson Mandela
On Sunday, Mr Mandela told about 30 relatives of the victims that he had already spoken to the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia about the issue.

"They have both agreed that, if he is transferred, they would accept him," he told a media conference following the meeting.

"I told the relatives that he would go to a country trusted by Britain and the United States to serve his full sentence, and the length of the sentence would be determined by the Scottish authorities.

"Nobody opposed it, and I was very happy with their response. They appear to be open-minded, notwithstanding the wounds and the scars they have suffered."

Angry response

However, Mr Mandela's comments angered a spokesman for the American victims' families.

George Williams, 71, whose 24-year-old son Geordie died in the tragedy, said: "If Megrahi is put in a Muslim country, he would be treated as a hero, not as a murderer.

"Nelson Mandela should sort out the problems in his own country, and stay out of this."

He added: "I have fought for 14 years for justice for my son, and I'll continue fighting until I die."

Megrahi was convicted of the bombing, which claimed the lives of 270 people, and sentenced to life in a Scottish prison.

After spending an hour with the 49-year-old last month, Mr Mandela accused the Scottish Prison Service of "psychological persecution" for holding the bomber in solitary confinement.

He called for Megrahi to be moved to a prison in a Muslim country - a move rejected by the British government.

His visit to Barlinnie caused criticism and Sunday's meeting with relatives was seen as an attempt to redress the balance.

Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi
Al-Megrahi was taken to Barlinnie in March
Mr Mandela was instrumental in brokering the deal which led to the trial of Megrahi and a second accused man, who was later cleared, at a special Scottish court in the Netherlands.

He told the relatives that he had stepped in to break the deadlock when neither side had been prepared to compromise over the trial.

"I thought of the relatives of the victims, and how they suffer, because myself, when I was in prison, I lost my mother and my elder son, and to have such disasters is difficult to accept," he said.

Asked about his continuing interest in the case, he said: "I was responsible for convincing President Gaddafi to release these two suspects.

"I was responsible and I cannot wash my hands now that he is convicted.

Court record

"It is time for me to pledge my support for him, especially in the light of the criticism that has been given."

He said he could not criticise the judgment of the court because he had not read the record of the proceedings.

However, he told relatives how the sister of one of the victims was not convinced that Megrahi had committed the crime and how a four-judge commission from the Organisation of African Unity has criticised the conviction.

No relatives were present at the media conference which followed the meeting.

However, Mr Mandela said: "I would not encourage them to participate, they are still suffering from the wounds and scars of this disaster."

Mr Mandela also hopes to meet American relatives when he travels to the United States later this year.

Dr Jim Swire, a spokesman for the UK Families Flight 103 Group, kept details of the meeting which he attended closely under wraps.

He said: "It was a private meeting which relatives have been seeking for some years.

"We wanted the opportunity to thank Mr Mandela for the contribution he made for making the trial possible. We had an enjoyable meeting with him."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Scotland's Alexandra Mackenzie reports
"Tony Blair has already dismissed the suggestion"
Lockerbie megapuff graphic

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10 Jun 02 | Scotland
10 Jun 02 | Scotland
10 Jun 02 | Scotland
11 Jun 02 | Scotland
25 Apr 02 | Scotland
16 Apr 02 | Scotland
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