Gaddafi turns on refugees

The Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, is to expel 30,000 Palestinian refugees nine days after the end of Ramadan to show that the Palestinian problem has not been solved. He wants them to go back to Palestine but is prepared for them to remain in camps along the border with Egypt.

Colonel Gaddafi told the London-based pro-Libyan daily al-Arab that he wanted to dramatise the fact that, despite the PLO-Israel peace accords, most Palestinians are refugees.

Palestinians in Libya say they are already being asked to go. Colonel Gaddafi has bad relations with the PLO because of his hostility to its 1993 Oslo agreement with Israel and has long been at odds with its chairman, Yasser Arafat. He is critical of Mr Arafat for being too accommodating with Israel.

The Libyan leader may be influenced by the way Israel's expulsion two years ago of 400 Palestinians backfired. The Palestinians, accused of being Hamas sympathisers, were expelled to the border with Lebanon. Colonel Gaddafi asks other Arab states, where 3.5 million Palestinians live, to follow his example and make Palestinians "camp out in the wilderness". There is no doubt that the Libyan leader is capable of carrying out his threat.

Colonel Gaddafi also claims in the interview that Iran was behind the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 and says for the first time that it may have been carried out by extremist Iranian groups whose members have since been executed or have fled abroad. He repeats that he will not give up the two Libyans accused by the US and Britain of planting the bomb on the Pan Am flight.

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