Gaddafi tries to halt tighter sanctions

COLONEL Muammar Gaddafi has attempted one of his notorious charm offensives towards the West, in the apparent hope of staving off further sanctions due to come into effect if he continues to refuse to hand over the two Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing.

The Colonel said the two men would be prepared to stand trial in Scotland or the United States if Britain and the US agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Tripoli. 'When those two people find their country has established diplomatic relationships with these countries, this would give them more confidence to go,' he told Scottish television.

He also praised the leaders of Britain and America. President Bill Clinton had shown courage in trying to help resolve the dispute, and John Major 'is not aggressive. He does not have a colonial mentality and his personality is completely different from that of Thatcher'.

The language is almost identical to that used by the Colonel in 1991 as he grew increasingly edgy in the run-up to the indictment of the two Libyan agents suspected in the bombing - Abdel Baset Ali Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah - which led to the existing sanctions.

Yesterday the Scottish Crown Office confirmed that a leading Scottish defence lawyer and Labour peer had travelled to Brussels for what was reported to be a meeting with representatives of the two suspects. The Scotsman said Lord Macaulay, Labour's spokesman on Scottish legal affairs, had given the Libyans secret guarantees that the two would not be handed to the US if they stood trial in Scotland.

The reported assistance from Lord Macaulay comes as Colonel Gaddafi is trying to find a new Western lawyer. Last month Abe Sofaer, formerly a top legal adviser to the Reagan administration, dropped Libya as a client following negative publicity. Mr Sofaer was particularly well- placed for the job: in 1986 he produced the legal justification for the US air raid against Tripoli, and then helped draw up the plan for the US economic embargo against Libya. He resigned his Libya commission after only a few days in the job.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who has laboured fruitlessly for the past 18 months to resolve the stand-off between Libya and the West, yesterday left Tripoli saying new sanctions would be ill-advised. 'Extending or stiffening the sanctions against Libya will not resolve the problem,' he said. He was pursuing contacts with all parties involved to seek 'a satisfactory solution for all'.

The UN has warned it will impose assets and oil technology- related sanctions - in addition to the existing arms embargo and ban on flights to Libya - if the two are not handed over by 1 October. The Foreign Office said yesterday the Security Council resolutions were 'not negotiable' and Libya was 'required to comply fully with them'.

The explosion on board Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988 killed 270 people.