Libya haggles over Lockerbie suspects

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LIBYA WILL only hand over suspects in the Lockerbie bombing for trial if it receives guarantees about their legal treatment, Colonel Gaddafi said yesterday.

The Libyan leader made a surprise appearance on CNN in a 15-minute television interview live from Libya, in which he spoke in a mixture of Arabic and English. Dressed in a casual shirt and trousers, he sat in a wheelchair in what looked like a library: he recently broke his leg in a sports injury.

Col Gaddafi said his country had no objections to the choice of The Hague as the site for a trial of two Libyan intelligence officers accused of the bombing, or to Scottish judges presiding over the case.

But it was still uncertain of the exact terms of the offer made by Britain and America. "There are procedures, arrangements, guarantees that the whole world should see before the handing over," he said. "There is no problem except clarifying these arrangements before the hand over."

The two men "are not tins of fruit, they are human beings", he added. "You can't say, 'give us these two people, quickly'."

Libya was ready to discuss the outstanding issues at any time, but Col Gaddafi also expressed great suspicion of America and, especially, Britain. "Britain during the colonial period used all these tricks," he said. Libya was briefly occupied by Britain as a key military staging post in the Mediterranean. "All these ploys, all these tricks and all these documents are a thing of the past," he said. "That era has elapsed."

In an official statement on Wednesday, Libya said that it was considering the Anglo-American plan "positively". But afterwards, the US complained that the statement did not "specifically state that Libya is prepared - as called for in UN Security Council resolutions - promptly to turn the suspects over for trial". It "falls short of what UN Security Council resolutions require", a State Department spokesman said.

Britain initially welcomed the Libyan statement, but shifted its line after the US reply.

"I welcome the Libyan response. As far as it goes it is the most positive response we have had for the last seven years," the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, told reporters yesterday. "But it doesn't meet the acid test of handing over the two accused to the Netherlands, and, until we get that, we can't be too confident or too optimistic about any response."

The UN applied sanctions to Libya in 1992 after it refused to hand over the suspects, and Col Gaddafi also insisted these be removed immediately after it agrees to a trial in The Hague.

The United Nations Security Council was last night drawing up a resolution backing the Anglo-American plan, and the council was expected to vote on it overnight.