Just two days before the U.N. Security Council was to consider tougher economic sanctions, Libya agreed Wednesday to surrender two intelligence operatives to face trial in Scotland for the 1988 bombing of Pan American Flight 103, a U.N. spokesman said.
Foreign Minister Omar Mustafa Muntasser informed U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of the Libyan government’s decision during a late-afternoon meeting in the secretary general’s office.
The U.N. spokesman said Muntasser “confirmed the acceptance by his government that the two suspects appear before a Scottish court.” However, the spokesman said, there was no decision about when the suspects in the bombing of the plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, would be turned over to face British justice. Officials will meet again today to continue the discussion.
The Pan Am Boeing 747 was blown apart by a bomb and crashed in Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 270 aboard the plane and on the ground. A massive investigation led to charges against the two Libyans.
Libya has hinted for months that it would permit the suspects, Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, to stand trial. But each time, the government of Moammar Kadafi attached conditions that protected the two intelligence agents from facing a court.
This time, Muntasser’s promise was straightforward, the U.N. spokesman indicated.
Earlier Wednesday, Libya released a statement saying it had lifted its objection to a trial in Scotland, Reuters news agency reported. But Reuters quoted the Libyan lawyer for the men as saying they had not decided whether to accept trial in Scotland.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher and British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd made it clear Wednesday that their patience with Libyan maneuvering was at an end.
“To be honest, I am no longer interested in statements,” Hurd said. ". . . Someone was responsible for the loss of more than 200 people. . . . The time for words and meetings about words has gone by.”
Christopher said, “We intend to proceed with our efforts to get tougher sanctions if they do not return the two individuals.”
The Security Council imposed an arms embargo, severed most airline links between Libya and the rest of the world and established other diplomatic sanctions last year. It set a Friday deadline for Libya to comply with the demand to turn over the suspects for trial, and the United States, Britain and France prepared to introduce a resolution to impose tougher sanctions, including a ban on some oil-related equipment and a freeze on some Libyan financial assets abroad.