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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 September, 2003, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Why no-one's reading the Libya dossier

Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

There is a Middle Eastern country which, over the course of that last 30 years, has undeniably constituted "a serious and current" threat to the security interests of the UK.

Enniskillen bomb
Semtex from Libya was used in Enniskillen Remembrance Sunday bomb
An agent from that country's intelligence services was convicted in a court of murdering 259 passengers and crew in an airliner over British airspace in 1988.

No UN weapons investigators have been sent to that Middle Eastern country to try to uncover its arms or training camps.

However, it's well known that the same Middle Eastern country supplied four ship loads of arms and explosives to the most potent terrorist group operating within the UK during the 1980s.

Those explosives were used in a series of attacks in Britain and Ireland which claimed scores of lives. They included members of the security forces and civilians. Men, women and children.

The Middle Eastern country is, of course, Libya, not Iraq.

The group which benefited from Libyan assistance was the Provisional IRA, now on ceasefire.

A source with access to high grade intelligence told me there was no question that the Libyan arms had greatly enhanced the IRA's deadly force and transformed their ability to mount a wide range of operations.

The arms supplied ranged from Webley revolvers to Semtex high explosives.

Amongst the attacks carried out with Libyan Semtex, which the technical expert pointed to, were the Enniskillen bomb in 1987 which killed 11, the Ballygawley bus bombing in 1988 which killed eight soldiers, the mortar attack at Downing Street in 1991 when the IRA tried to wipe out John Major's Cabinet, and about 250 booby-trap bombings.

Colonel Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi
Gaddafi sent arms and cash to aid IRA with campaign
My source talked candidly about the evidence, unconcerned that the government might put him under pressure.

For one thing, it's all a matter of well documented history. For another, the worst kept secret of the IRA's Tripoli connection is that the Joint Intelligence Committee has no intention of compiling a dossier documenting the Libyan threat.

The UK is involved in action on the Libyan issue at the United Nations. But it isn't trying to build a coalition for military action against a sponsor of terror.

The UK did cooperate with Ronald Reagan's assault on Tripoli, which claimed the life of Muammar Gadaffi's adopted daughter.

But that took place in 1986, before the Lockerbie bombing and before most of the IRA attacks made possible by Libyan weaponry.

Indeed some believe that the attack on Tripoli may have acted as a spur to Colonel Gadaffi to step up his help for the IRA.

Instead of preparing for retribution, the UK's diplomats at the UN are championing the lifting of sanctions against Libya.

The matter will go to a vote on Friday. The British argument is that if the Libyans did the crime, then one of their agents, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, is now doing the time. He was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

'Last minute snag'

So, after years of painstaking negotiations which led to the agent's trial, the government believes it's time to bring Tripoli back from the diplomatic cold.

The plan to lift the sanctions against Libya hit a last minute snag, however, when Paris raised objections.

The French have threatened to use their Security Council veto largely because of their financial and diplomatic embarrassment.

French diplomats negotiated a compensation package for relatives of the 170 people killed when a French UTA airliner was brought down over Niger in 1989.

But that has been dwarfed by a more recent settlement reached by the US and British Governments for the Lockerbie bombing.

The French settled for $150,000 per family, whilst the Lockerbie package could mean that each victim's family will eventually receive up to $10 million.

Lockerbie crash
Sanctions forced Libya to co-operate over Lockerbie
French families were angry at the disparity. But Lockerbie relatives were furious at the delay which Paris caused to their settlement.

However, on the eve of the crucial vote, the logjam appeared to have been removed when French diplomats agreed an improved deal.

Yet one group which has never been mentioned in relation to any discussions over compensation has been the relatives of those killed or maimed by the Libyan arms supplied to the IRA, and used to such deadly effect in Ireland and Britain.

The IRA connection has featured in international diplomacy to a degree.

As part of the negotiations which led to the UN sanctions being lifted, Libyan intelligence officials met their British counterparts and provided detailed information about the millions of pounds in cash and 120 tonnes of weaponry which they had given the IRA.

However, no diplomat has ever raised the question of compensation for the victims of the IRA's Libyan connection.

The talks about lifting the sanctions against Tripoli coincided with the years of the peace process in Ireland.

Some would argue that it might not have been politically expedient to give the litany of Provisional IRA attacks greater prominence on the world stage at that time.

7,000 payment

Janet Hunter, whose brother Joseph McIlwaine was a soldier killed by the IRA in 1987, gasped when she heard the sums being talked about for compensating both the families of the French UTA airliner and the relatives of those on board the Pan Am Flight 103 brought down over Lockerbie.

She says all her family received after her brother's death was a 7,000 payment from the army.

Comparing the treatment given to other victims of terrorism elsewhere, she said: "We are disgusted we have been brushed under the carpet. No-one will stick their necks out for the likes of us."

The Eksund
The Eksund was seized with 150 tonnes of weaponry from Libya
Instead of holding out for compensation for the IRA victims, on Friday Britain's UN ambassador will push ahead with the move to lift sanctions.

He is no doubt trying to persuade his French counterpart that if he cannot vote in favour he should at least abstain.

The British embassy in Tripoli re-opened in 1999 after 15 years in which diplomatic relations were severed.

British firms are doing business in Libya and British diplomats have recently been quoted as viewing Colonel Gaddaffi as "a man we can talk to" and someone who is now "on the right side in the war against terror".

It's just that no-one has yet explained that to Janet Hunter, or the other relatives of victims of the IRA's Libyan connection.

The IRA's store of weaponry
14 Aug 01  |  Northern Ireland
Libya agrees bombing deal
01 Sep 03  |  Europe
Libya completes Lockerbie payout
22 Aug 03  |  Americas

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