Libya, long shunned by most Western nations as a leading sponsor of terrorism, has begun emerging from its isolation, and Wednesday's verdict in the Lockerbie trial is unlikely to change that, analysts say.
A Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands is due to rule on whether two Libyans were behind the bomb attack that blew a Pan-Am jumbo jet out of the sky in December 1988, killing all 259 people on board plus 11 on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland.
The Lockerbie affair brought new accusations that the regime of Colonel Moamer Kadhafi had been sponsoring terrorism, and led to UN sanctions being enacted against it in January 1992 in order to pressure it into handing over its two nationals for trial.
When Libya finally did so — after a deal was struck under which the court did not operate on Scottish soil — the sanctions were suspended in April 1999.
Since then Libya's comeback has been further aided by the role it played in helping obtain the release of European hostages being held by a Philippine rebel group last year.
Even if the two Libyans are found guilty on Wednesday, the country's return to grace is expected to continue, analysts said.
European countries appear willing to put the past behind them, and even the United States — which sent warplanes to bomb Tripoli after the bombing of a Berlin discotheque in 1986 — is not expected to display the same vehemence against Kadhafi and his regime.
British Foreign Office officials, quoted on Tuesday by the Financial Times newspaper said that even if the two men were convicted, the verdict would "say something about Libya in 1988... but the Libya we're dealing with is that of 2001."
"The verdict itself has no direct implication for the bilateral relationship," the officials said. "Libya has been progressively coming back, step by step, in all international meetings since the Security Council suspended the sanctions" said French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of Mediterranean states in Lisbon.
The meeting, called to boost trade and other cooperation between the rich countries to the north of the Mediterranean and the poorer ones to the south of it, included Libya, which initially said it would stay away but later decided to attend.
Tripoli's arguments for being allowed back into the fold are far from being only diplomatic and judicial. The country is sitting on huge reserves of high-quality oil, and its relatively high income and low levels of debt make it a tempting partner for European trade and investment.
Libya's oil revenues are estimated at $10 billion (€10.6 billion) per year, and the sparsely populated country has development projects worth an estimated $35 billion.
Once the Lockerbie trial is in the past, the main cloud remaining on the horizon will be allegations that Libya was also behind the blowing-up of a French airliner over West Africa in 1989, which killed 170 people, most of them Africans. Allegations that Kadhafi was personally behind that attack are still pending in France. — (AFP, Paris)
by Henri Mamarbachi
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )