Inside File: Libya's Colonel is not for turning

IT now appears Scotland will be denied its Lockerbie trial. Senior British diplomats this week held a meeting to assess the likelihood of Libya handing over the two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, and all came to the same conclusion: the Colonel won't do it.

Yesterday, as if on cue, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi declared: 'Once again confrontation is on the horizon. They are beating the drums of crusader war, but they will not terrorise us and, in return, we must beat the drums of confrontation and terrorise them.

'The Libyan people will not be terrorised by the blockade or the embargo . . . We will die but we will not submit or give in.'

'We were just using our hunches,' said a British official about the Foreign Office assessment. 'Now he'll be looking for sympathy, of which there won't be any.'

The reason some Lockerbie cognoscenti give for Col Gaddafi's refusal to hand over the two is that they may in the course of the trial spill the beans on the colonel's complicity. That may then lead to an arrest warrant being issued for Col Gaddafi - most probably by the Americans, who might like to finish off the job they started when they bombed Tripoli in 1986. But then what? Are the Americans going to go to Libya and hunt down Col Gaddafi, as they have hunted the fugitive Somali warlord, Mohamed Farah Aideed? That process is now in its fifth month, with capture no nearer.

'The reason is more that if Gaddafi hands over these two, people won't work for him in future,' said one senior British diplomat. 'He needs to preserve the loyalty of his henchmen.'

And so the United Nations will vote to tighten sanctions within the next 10 days. It is now two years since the first Lockerbie resolution was passed, 'and I guess we can carry on passing them for another two years', said a weary diplomat.

That said, Libya is not considered the threat to international security it used to be. 'Gaddafi himself is no longer anything like as dangerous as he was,' said one British official. 'He has put away his terrorist capacity because he is afraid of getting caught; he has very little money with which to subvert African states; he is not trying to export his revolution and his own revolution is somewhat tamed; his oil is less important than it was because of the glut.'

As for likely worrisome successors, the hardline Abdel Salaam Jalloud is said to be 'too drunk and drugged' to be much of a threat any more. 'We used to think that Jalloud was worse than Gaddafi. When the Americans were trying to get Gaddafi in 1986, we asked them to think about that,' said one European diplomat.

Yet conspiracy theories still abound. One of them is that Col Gaddafi actually bought the support of his one bridge with the West: Egypt. At a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity in Cairo two months ago, the story goes, the colonel offered President Hosni Mubarak dollars 45m ( pounds 30m) to make a statement against further sanctions.

Another theory is that the delay in voting for the new sanctions was engineered by Libya's oil trading partners to give Col Gaddafi time to get his assets out of the country. A third, that the downing of a Libyan passenger aircraft over Tripoli last year was plotted by Libyan intelligence to give Col Gaddafi occasion to blame the West. The Libyan intelligence chief, Abdullah Sanoussi, and a former ambassador to London, Moussa Koussa - both mentioned in the context of Lockerbie as well as the downing of a French UTA plane in 1989 - are said to have been spotted at the airport just before the crash. 'We are square now,' Col Gaddafi said afterwards. The then Libyan justice minister, a Benghazi like most of the Libyans killed on board, was later said to have been assassinated for threatening to reveal the truth.

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