US defuses pressure on Libyan rebels on Lockerbie

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The United States on Wednesday defused Senate pressure on Libya's rebels to put the Lockerbie bomber back in jail by saying the new leaders should first finish the job of ousting Moamer Kadhafi.

The US government has long criticized the decision by Scottish authorities in August, 2009 to release ailing Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi early on grounds that they believed he had only months to live.

But State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland relieved some of the burden on the rebel National Transition Council (NTC) when she said it was not running the country when Megrahi returned to a hero's welcome in Libya two years ago.

"We need to give the (NTC) a chance to do job one, which is to finish the job of ousting Kadhafi and his regime, begin the job of establishing Libya on a democratic path," Nuland said.

"And we are very gratified by the fact that they have made clear that they are willing to look into this. We will continue to talk to them about it, and we will certainly make sure that Congress's views are conveyed," she said.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said Wednesday the United States should withhold aid to the NTC until it has imprisoned Megrahi.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez meanwhile said US investigators must have access to Megrahi to assess his health and question him about the attack.

Both senators sent their appeals in letters to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Megrahi has denied any role in the in-flight bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, most of them Americans, but in 2001 was sentenced to life in prison.

He was released by the Scottish authorities in August 2009 on compassionate grounds that he was dying of prostate cancer.

More than two years later, he is alive and living in Tripoli, although his brother said he is drifting in and out of a coma.

© 2011 AFP

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