First Published: 2008-12-19

Libya plays catch up from Lockerbie fall-out

Libya till working to roll back impact of sanctions, secure release of convicted intelligence officer.


Middle East Online

Afaf Geblawi - TRIPOLI

The sanctions caused much harm to the economy and people of Libya

Twenty years after the Lockerbie plane bombing, Libya is still working to roll back the impact of sanctions and secure the release of a convicted intelligence officer.

Tripoli has signed an accord to compensate victims' families, allowing UN and US sanctions to be lifted. It has returned to the international scene, normalising ties with Washington and the European Union.

Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi, since publicly giving up on a quest for weapons of mass destruction at the end of 2003, has been hosting a flurry of European and American officials seeking a share of his country's oil wealth.

"During the embargo, we suffered enormously at the economic level," said Shukri Ghanem, who serves as oil minister.

"We were deprived of technology and the backing of Western companies," he said. Since the lifting of sanctions, "the sector has been struggling to catch up after an enormous slowdown."

Libya has enormous energy reserves but is also heavily dependent on its oil production which accounts for 90 percent of exports. It aims to recover to its pre-embargo output level of three million barrels per day by 2013.

"But the future is looking rosy what with the lifting of all obstacles to access to technology and with the influx of Western investment," an upbeat Ghanem said.

For Libyan analyst Mustapha Zeidi, the country has been the victim of "injustice and an irrational stubbornness on the part of Western countries," squeezing Tripoli with economic and political pressures.

"This confrontation with the West had serious repercussions on the country's development," said Zeidi, a prominent politician in Libya. It was only "wisdom of Libyan policies" that allowed both sides not to lose face.

For Zeidi, intelligence agent Abdel Baset Ali Mohammed al-Megrahi who was jailed for the 1988 plane bombing over the Scottish village of Lockerbie is a "political hostage" who has been "sacrificed for his country".

Mahmud Bussifi, editor-in-chief of Oea newspaper which is close to Gathafi's influential son Seif al-Islam, says it is high time for the West to tell the truth of Megrahi's innocence on the basis of new evidence which has emerged.

Megrahi, handed over by the Libyan authorities in 1999, was two years later condemned to a life prison term with a minimum 27 years behind bars for the December 21, 1988 bombing which killed 270 people.

The Libyan agent, who has terminal cancer, is behind bars in Scotland awaiting an appeal scheduled for next year.

"Although we are certain of his innocence, the only thing that interests us now is for him to be able to spend his remaining days with us, even if it is in Scotland," said wife Aisha, warning of his "critical" condition.

She thanked the efforts of Libyan authorities to have him released and "the compassion and support of victims' families who also believe in his innocence."


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