Dutch prepare air base for Lockerbie case

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LIBYA'S ASSEMBLY met yesterday to endorse a final decision on handing over the two Lockerbie bombing suspects, as the Dutch government pressed on with plans to prepare a wind-swept morsel of the Netherlands as sovereign British territory where the long- awaited trial is due to be held.

The Dutch plan to turn the old United States military base at Zeist, six miles from Utrecht, into a British court to fulfil an agreement that the trial of those suspected of bombing the Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland 10 years ago would be conducted under Scottish law and on British soil.

The compromise proposal provides the legal fig-leaf that the trial be held under Scottish jurisdiction and meets the demand of Libya's leader, Muammar Gaddafi, for a trial to take place in a neutral country.

The Zeist military base consists of little more than a clutch of prefabs, an underground bunker and a concrete military hospital on a mound, all ringed by barbed wire. The hospital was built by the US Air Force, which was stationed there throughout the Cold War until the early Nineties.

If the Libyan leader does agree to hand over the two men, they will be housed in the bomb-proof complex located beneath the old hospital. They will be driven into a covered driveway created for casualties arriving at the emergency department. The high level of security may answer Libya's concern for the suspects' security in the Netherlands. Libya says it fears they could be kidnapped and taken to the US.

The US and Britain are believed to be ready to pay at least pounds 60m to convert the camp into a complex capable of holding several hundred security guards, military personnel, media and relatives of those killed in the bombing.

One sign that Libya may be serious about handing over the men was an announcement that Libyan lawyers were raising money for the defence of the two men. An outstanding disagreement is where the two men, if found guilty, would serve their sentence.

Libya has always refused to hand over the two alleged intelligence agents, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, arguing that they would not receive a fair trial in Britain or the US. But last weekend, the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, emerged from a visit to Libya seemingly confident he had finally concluded negotiations on the two suspects' surrender. "We are on our way to resolving the issue," Mr Annan declared after a meeting with Colonel Gaddafi

Earlier this year, Libya won the agreement of Britain and the US for a trial before Scottish judges on neutral Dutch territory. The US and Britain have stepped up demands recently for the surrender of the two men to take place before the 10th anniversary of the bombing on 21 December. Britain and the Netherlands signed an agreement in September permitting the transfer of the land.

The final decision on the handover of the two suspects lies with the Libyan assembly, the General People's Congress, which opened its session in the coastal city of Sirte yesterday. Observers in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, said the Lockerbie case was likely to be raised when foreign affairs were discussed.