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Libya Agrees to U.S. Plan for Dutch Trial of Pan Am Bombing Suspects

By Thomas W. Lippman
and John M. Goshko
The Washington Post

Libya announced its acceptance Wednesday of a plan by the United States and Britain to put two suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on trial in the Netherlands.

If carried out, the decision by the Libyan government of Moammar Gadhafi would end a seven-year stalemate over the fate of two senior Libyan intelligence agents indicted for the crime in this country and Britain, and result in the suspension of economic sanctions imposed on Libya by the U.N. Security Council.

The Libyans said nothing about when or how the two suspects might be sent to the Netherlands, and some officials and members of victims' families said they will believe it when they see it. It is not even clear that Libyan authorities have custody of the two men, senior Libyan intelligence agents identified in the 1991 indictments as Lamen Khalifa Fhimah and Abdel Basset Megrahi.

The Clinton administration's initial response was skeptical because the Libyans have maneuvered for years to avoid delivering the suspects and some ambiguous language in the Libyan statement Wednesday could be read as raising new conditions.

"We don't know what this means," a Clinton administration official said. "If it means they intend to deliver the two to Dutch custody, we welcome it. If it means an attempt to negotiate the terms of a trial, we remind the Libyan government that the terms are not negotiable. If the Libyans are serious, we expect that the next step will be the U.N. Secretary General notifying us that the suspects have been transported to the Hague and are in Dutch custody."

"I welcome this statement, which looks like a positive development," British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in a statement." But he too added a note of caution: "We shall need to study exactly what the Libyans have said and to ensure that they are not setting any conditions on their acceptance."

But indications were Wednesday night that the Libyans are prepared to go ahead. The U.S.-U.K. plan is almost identical to one that the Libyans themselves offered in 1994, and was endorsed by the Arab League and other international organizations. Arab League Secretary General Esmat Abdel Meguid said Tuesday that he expected Libya to accept.

According to news reports from Cairo, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak sent a senior aide to Tripoli Wednesday to urge Libya to accept the proposal. The Egyptians have been trying for some time to broker an end to the stalemate, which has made an international pariah out of their neighbor to the west.

Pan Am Flight 103, a Boeing 747, was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. The explosion and crash killed all 259 people on the plane.