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Libya cash deal for 170 deadin French UTA airliner bombing

PARIS, Jan 9 (AFP) – Libya took a new step out of diplomatic isolation Friday when it signed a deal in Paris offering USD 170 million (EUR 133 million) in compensation for the bombing of a French airliner over the Sahara in 1989.

After several months of negotiations the Kadhafi Foundation, which has been acting for the Libyan government, agreed to pay USD 1 million one to families of each of the 170 victims killed when the DC-10 belonging to the UTA airline crashed in Niger.

“A page has been turned,” said the Foundation’s director Saleh Abdessalam after the signature of the accord in a Paris law office.

In recent months Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi has made a series of moves to re-establish links with the United States and Europe, concluding a compensation deal for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing over Scotland and last month vowing to abandon all programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.

A United Nations embargo on Tripoli was lifted in September after the Lockerbie deal, but the US maintains unilateral sanctions and President George W. Bush this week said they would not be lifted till Libya takes “concrete steps” to prove its good faith.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Shalgam was in Paris Friday where he was to hold afternoon meetings with President Jacques Chirac and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to seal the two countries’ rapprochement.

“With this accord, the affair will be definitively closed,” Libyan foreign ministry spokesman Hassuna al-Shaush told AFP. “Nothing will be able to affect relations between Libya and France anymore.”

Under the UTA deal, the USD 170 million will be paid in four installments, with a first cheque for the euro equivalent of USD 42.5 million handed over at Friday’s signing.

The sum was still short of the 10 million dollars paid to the 270 families of Lockerbie victims, but the spokesman for the UTA relatives Guillaume Denoix de Saint-Marc said the disparity was not enormous because “after lawyers’ fees and taxes the Lockerbie families will in fact get between USD 1.5 million and
USD 2 million.”

France’s insistence that the UTA relatives get compensation equivalent to the Lockerbie deal held up the UN resolution lifting sanctions on Libya, which was only voted after Paris and Tripoli signed a provisional agreement in September. Wrangling over details continued till this week.

Libya has never admitted responsibility for the UTA crash, in which nationals of 16 countries died, including 54 French, 48 Congolese, 25 Chadians, eight Americans and four Britons. However as with Lockerbie, Tripoli was prepared to cut a financial deal to win back international acceptance.

In 1999 six Libyan officials, including Kadhafi’s brother-in-law, were sentenced to jail terms in absentia in Paris for their role in the bombing, and France has resisted pressure from Tripoli to have the convictions quashed or international arrest warrants for the men lifted.

“With respect to the six Libyans … their fate is left to the French courts, which will act independently,” Denoix de Saint-Marc said.

According to Abdessalam, France and Libya have also agreed to organise a memorial service at the crash site in Niger as a symbol of reconciliation between the two countries.

Franco-Libyan relations were for many years complicated by their rival interests in the former French colony of Chad, and since 1989 the UTA bombing has put any rapprochement on hold. But since 2002 flights have resumed and last October a joint Franco-Libyan committee met for the first time in 10 years.

The French government was kept ill-informed about the gradual normalisation of ties between Libya and Britain, the UN and the US, and is anxious not to be left out of the bidding if the country opens up to lucrative oil and other contracts.


                                Subject: France news