This is from the Scottish edition.

 

Jim S.

 

 

The Sunday Times                              November 06 2005

 


Libya offers to trade nurses for Lockerbie bomber
Mark Macaskill, Scottish Home Affairs correspondent

 

 

LIBYA has offered to spare the lives of five nurses and a doctor on death row if Britain hands over the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

Tripoli has told British and American diplomats that it will free the medical staff from Bulgaria and Palestine if Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is allowed to serve the remainder of his life sentence in Libya.

The offer was made during secret talks to free the five nurses and a doctor accused of deliberately infecting almost 400 children with HIV at a hospital in Benghazi, in northeast Libya, in the late 1990s.

Lawyers acting for the prisoners, who face execution by firing squad, claim they were framed.

They also alleged that they have been repeatedly raped and tortured during their seven years in jail.

Further talks with the Libyan authorities are scheduled to take place later this month.

The disclosure follows mounting speculation that there are plans to repatriate Megrahi to Tripoli to serve the rest of his 27-year sentence.

The former Libyan intelligence officer is serving his sentence in Greenock prison after being convicted of the 1988 atrocity in which 270 people were killed.

His conviction is being reviewed by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is being lobbied by MSPs and victims’ relatives to reopen the case amid concerns Megrahi is innocent.

Last month, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the former lord advocate who issued the arrest warrant for Megrahi, told The Sunday Times that he had doubts about the reliability of the main witness in the trial.

The former Conservative minister described Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper whose testimony was central in securing the conviction in 2001 as “not quite the full shilling” and “an apple short of a picnic”.

He added that Megrahi should be allowed to leave Scotland to serve the remainder of his sentence in Libya.

Last week, a source close to the talks said the Bulgarian government had approached Britain in the hope its experience in dealing with Libya over the Lockerbie affair might secure the release of the six prisoners.

While Britain does not stand to benefit directly, ministers believe its international reputation would be enhanced by securing the prisoners’ release.

“The Bulgarians have been desperate for a number of years to get them out of jail,” said the source. “The European Union was half-negotiating, but they have been unable to do it so (the Bulgarians) came to Britain and the US because they feel we know how to deal with the Libyans.

“We reluctantly agreed to meet with the Libyans to see if we can do something, but the problem is (they) said ‘We’ll do a trade with Megrahi’.”

The Bulgarian nurses travelled to Libya during the 1990s in an attempt to find work. After an outbreak of Aids in Benghazi hospital, 23 foreign medical personnel, mostly Bulgarian, were arrested.

Though most were released, the remainder were accused of deliberately infecting children at the hospital.

The international community and medical authorities widely agree the Benghazi infections were caused by poor hygiene and that the doctor and nurses are scapegoats.

Last night Jim Swire, spokesman for the families of the Lockerbie victims, who lost his daughter Flora in the atrocity, said he was not surprised to hear that Libya had offered to swap prisoners.

“I suspected there was a link between the Bulgarian nurses and Megrahi but if he was exchanged I think it would be the right outcome for all the wrong reasons,” he said.

“I would be delighted to see Megrahi and the nurses released but while the exchange would remedy two cruel human problems, I want Megrahi’s verdict overturned for true and honest reasons which are aired in the public domain.

“Any transfer of Megrahi at this point would jeopardise that.”

Eddie McKechnie, Megrahi’s former solicitor, said he believed the Libyan might be repatriated.

“What I find exceedingly odd is that I am not aware of the UK government or indeed the Scottish executive ever saying straightforwardly that there will be no repatriation for Megrahi.

“I think they have to be pressed, they’re wriggling.”

Last week, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed it was in talks with “all levels” of the Libyan government to secure the health workers’ release.

“Our ambassador in Tripoli has raised this at all levels with the Libyan administration,” said a spokesman.

A spokesman for the US State Department, said: “This is something we have consistently raised with the Libyans and negotiations are ongoing.”