Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi was threatened Friday with prosecution for a fatal bomb attack on a French airliner over North Africa 11 years ago, after a Paris court gave the go-ahead for legal proceedings against him.
The appeals court rejected arguments that Kadhafi enjoys immunity as a head of state, and ruled in favor of a suit launched by families of victims demanding that he face charges for "complicity to murder."
The DC-10 belonging to French airline UTA was flying from the Congolese capital Brazzaville to Paris when it crashed in the desert in the west African state of Niger on September 19, 1989, killing 170 people.
In March 1999 six Libyans, including Kadhafi's brother-in-law Abdallah Senoussi, allegedly the head of Libyan intelligence, were found guilty in absentia by a French court and given life sentences.
Under French law, an investigation will now be launched under an examining magistrate which could lead to Kadhafi being called for trial.
France's leading anti-terrorist judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, decided in October last year that the case against Kadhafi was sustainable, but the prosecutor's office appealed, invoking the "legal custom" that protects acting heads of state from prosecution.
However the appeals court ruled that the "judge can proceed because immunity does not apply to acts such as terrorism."
The court's decision was communicated by Francis Szpiner, lawyer for the group SOS-Attentats, which represents victims of terrorist attacks and their families.
The group's president Francoise Rudetzki said she was delighted by the court's decision.
"This will set a precedent in international law.
If diplomacy and economics had been victorious over justice, it would have been an insult to the 170 dead," she said.
Bruguiere uncovered the Libyan connection in the early 1990s after the confession of a Congolese opposition figure who said he had been given a suitcase containing explosives by the Libyan charge-d'affaires in Brazzaville.
The UTA bombing and the attack on a PanAm jet over Scotland the previous December led the United Nations to pass resolutions condemning Libya in January 1992. Three months later the UN imposed a ban on air flights and military sales.
The sanctions were lifted in April, 1999, after Kadhafi handed over two suspects to stand trial for the PanAm bombing in a special court in the Netherlands.
During the court hearing last month, Szpiner argued that international law was moving towards a greater recognition of the legal responsibility of heads of government, citing the proceedings against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Panama's former leader Manuel Noriega.
He said "only internationally ratified treaties can take precedence over the law of the land."
He also argued that technically the Libyan head of state was not Kadhafi but President Mohamed Zenati.
There was no immediate reaction from the French foreign ministry. Last month France thanked Kadhafi for his role in helping secure the release of French hostages held captive by Muslim rebels in the Philippine island of Jolo - PARIS (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )