Gaddafi son: we'll fight compensation bid

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The son of Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi said today his country would resist demands from IRA victims for compensation.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said any compensation arising from alleged Libyan arms supplies to the terror group would be a matter for "the courts", adding: "They (the victims' families have their lawyers, we have our lawyers."

In an interview with Sky News, he also said Gordon Brown had not been involved in talks over the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

And he condemned British politicians as "disgusting and immoral" for using the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi to make political capital.

Mr Gaddafi's comments came hours after Mr Brown announced that he was setting up a dedicated Foreign Office team to assist the IRA victims.

Of the looming British attempts to extricate compensation, the Libyan leader's son said: "Anyone can knock on our door. You go to the court. They have their lawyers. We have our lawyers."

And when asked if his answer to the compensation demand would be "no" in the first instance, he replied: "Of course."

Asked whether the Prime Minister involved himself in the release of Megrahi, Mr Gaddafi said: "He didn't."

The discussions had been "very, very technical", he told Sky News.

He added: "It couldn't be discussed at a high level. It is not something that should be discussed at a leadership level."

Mr Brown has faced accusations that the British government was involved in the deliberations, with valuable oil and trade deals playing a factor.

But last week he insisted the final decision to free Megrahi had been taken by the Scottish Government alone, saying: "There was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double dealing, no deal on oil."

Mr Gaddafi criticised British politicians making counter claims as "disgusting".

"They are trying to use this human tragedy for their own political agenda," he said.

"It's completely immoral to use this case to advance your own political agenda."

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill freed terminally-ill Megrahi on "compassionate grounds" last month. The Libyan, the only man to have been convicted for the Lockerbie bombing, is suffering from prostate cancer.

Mr Gaddafi also commented on the jubilant scenes in Tripoli which greeted the arrival of Megrahi after he was flown back home from the UK last month.

Crowds of people waving Libyan and Scottish flags were waiting to greet the Lockerbie bomber, sparking widespread anger both in Britain and the US.

Mr Gaddafi said he "didn't expect" the crowd which had been waiting several hours for the arrival.

"Sooner or later we had to leave the aircraft," he said. "We couldn't leave the aircraft with a hood on our heads."

He added that he thought Megrahi was "no criminal", saying: "He is innocent. I believe 100% he is innocent."

Mr Brown said last night that the Foreign Office team dealing with the IRA victims would be accompanied by representatives of Britain's embassy in Tripoli in negotiations with the Libyan authorities expected within the next fortnight.

His announcement was seen as a U-turn, as it came after press reports that he had personally vetoed official pressure on Libya over the issue for fear of jeopardising relations with Tripoli.

He reportedly wrote to the victims' lawyer, Jason McCue to inform him that it would not be "appropriate" for ministers to open talks on compensation with the Libyan government.

Mr McCue last night said he was "overjoyed" by last night's decision and predicted that the active support of the PM could bring about a resolution to their long campaign for justice within a matter of weeks.

Britons injured by IRA bombs and families of those killed are demanding compensation because Libya allegedly supplied weapons including the Semtex explosives used by republican bomb-makers in their campaign of terror in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s.

The US government has already secured compensation totalling 1.5 billion dollars for Americans affected by Libyan-sponsored terror.

Mr Brown's announcement came during a press conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, intended to cover issues like Afghanistan and the world economy.

He said that successive governments had raised the issue of Libya's support for the IRA over two decades, and that the previous Conservative administration told the United Nations in 1996 that its questions about the issue had been satisfactorily answered by Tripoli.

"I care enormously about the impact of IRA terror on victims and their families and on our communities," said the PM, who met the campaigners last December.

And he added: "Despite the efforts of successive governments over many years, the Libyans had always refused to accept treaty or normal inter-governmental agreements on this issue.

"As a result, our judgment has been that the course most likely to succeed and bring results is to support the families themselves in their legal representations through their lawyers to the Libyan authorities.

"In the coming weeks and months, I can say that we will step up our support by establishing a dedicated Foreign Office support for the victims' campaign...

"I think it is clear that we are taking what action we believe is necessary to support the families in their difficult but necessary attempt to represent themselves with the Libyan authorities."

Mr Brown insisted that his reluctance to put Britain's increasingly co-operative relations with Libya at risk was driven by the need to secure Tripoli's partnership on security and terrorism issues and not by oil or trade deals.

Mr McCue said yesterday was "a great day for victims", adding: "I am confident that his moral and logistical backing for the British victims of Libyan Semtex will ensure that they now receive justice and compensation, as did the US victims when they received the support of their president."

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: "The Prime Minister's announcement is a stunning admission that the Government has failed to support the families of the victims of IRA terrorism in their pursuit of compensation from Libya... The British government should have provided active support as a matter of course, not as a result of public pressure."

And Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey called for a wide-ranging inquiry into UK-Libyan relations, saying: "This is a Prime Minister who no longer appears to be in control. The British public will be astonished that their Prime Minister got himself into such a mess on this issue."

Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who is due to travel to Tripoli with representatives of the IRA victims, added: "It is essential now that the government delivers what the Prime Minister has promised. He has a moral responsibility to pursue this and we will hold him to it."