THE AIRCRASH WHICH led to the deaths of 157 people aboard a Libyan Arab Airlines Boeing 727 just before Christmas has dealt a blow to any hopes of an improvement in Libya's relations with the West in the foreseeable future. The crash - on a flight from Benghazi - took place near the town of Souk es Sebt, about 50 kilometers from Tripoli. It was followed by three days of mourning and a state funeral attended by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's son, Sayef al Islam, and two of his closest political associates, Colonel Abu Bakr Younis and Colonel Mustafa Kharroubi.
But, according to Libyan television, "Those who lost their lives in this disaster were victims of the injustice imposed by the UN Security Council." In Tripoli, demonstrators marched to the office of the United Nations to protest against what were described as the "inhuman |UN~ measures that caused human tragedies and great damages for the Libyan people."
At issue were the UN sanctions imposed last April after Tripoli had failed to hand over two Libyans indicted in Britain and the United States with responsibility for the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland killing 270 people. Libyan television was implying that the sanctions, which among other things ban air links with Libya, had contributed to the fatal crash. This was denied, however, by Mohammed Sweidan, an official of Libyan Arab Airlines, who said the cause of the crash was unknown. "It is true we have been hurt by the sanctions because we cannot import spare parts," he said. "Still, we do not send up an aircraft unless it is 100% airworthy."
Only a month earlier the prospects for improved relations between Libya and the West had looked much brighter. Following Governor Bill Clinton's elections as president of the United States, Gaddafi's second-in-command, Colonel Abdel Salam Jalloud, told a meeting of the General People's Congress in Sirte in mid-November: "We want to turn a new page with the US administration. We want the US administration to use dialogue and a civilised way to solve problems and discuss points of view without enmity."
Libya's relations with the United States have been stymied since the mid-1980s when former president Reagan imposed economic sanctions on the grounds of the oil state's links with terrorism. These sanctions were then extended by the United Nations last April.
Jalloud told the meeting that the UN sanctions had cost Libya $2.4bn. He also said it had caused the deaths...