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Libyan Officials Hand-Over Lockerbie Bombing Suspects

Los Angeles Times -- Netherlands

Clearing the way for a trial after years of defiance, Libya today handed over two suspects in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland. Their arrival in the Netherlands triggered suspension of sanctions that isolated Libya from the West.

The surrender of alleged formerintelligence agents Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah means the two men can be tried -- under a complicated deal worked out in years of talks-- in the Netherlands under Scottish law on charges of planting the suitcase bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103.

The Dec. 21, 1988, bombing killed 270 people -- 189 of them Americans -- and prompted the United Nations to impose sanctions on Libya in 1992 and 1993.

The sanctions, including bans on international air travel and sales of weapons and oil industry equipment, were suspended today after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a letter to the Security Council saying the suspects had arrived in the Netherlands.

“This development marks a vital step forward in what has been a long ordeal for all involved, especially for the families of the victims, who have suffered an irreparable loss,” Annan said.

The suspects surrendered after intense lobbying by South African President Nelson Mandela and Saudi Arabian and U.N. officials. Libya promised last month to turn over the men by Tuesday.

Accompanied by U.N. legal chief Hans Corell, who witnessed the handover in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, the pair arrived at the Valkenburg military airport in The Hague. They were to be held in a prison there or in the port city of Rotterdam pending proceedings to extradite them to British custody in the Netherlands.

Dutch authorities said the extradition process could be completed within a week to 10 days, but could take months if the suspects decide to fight it.

Once extradited, the suspects will be arraigned on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and violations of international aviation laws.