Libya deal on eve of Lockerbie anniversary

WESTMINSTER has agreed a controversial deal with Libya to return Libyan prisoners held in British jails to their home country.

A letter was sent by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, to Tripoli last night outlining the agreement.

The deal will include Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, but Scottish ministers will have been promised a veto over whether he can go home.

The Scotsman understands that Kenny MacAskill, the justice minister, was briefed by Mr Straw yesterday over the phone.

But Alex Salmond, the First Minister, last night accused the government of crass insensitivity over the move – and disputed the claim that ministers would have the final say.

The deal comes just 48 hours before the 19th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie, which claimed 270 lives in 1988.

Government sources at Westminster insisted that the safeguards the SNP had demanded were in place.

"Jack Straw will be signing the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya tonight. Megrahi will not be listed in the treaty as somebody who is specifically excluded," a source said.

"The Libyans would not agree to that. But as Kenny MacAskill discussed with Jack, there is a safeguard in that Scottish ministers will have to decide in each transfer case from a Scottish prison.

"If an application was made to transfer Megrahi, Scottish ministers could say no."

The convicted bomber is serving a life sentence in Greenock prison.

But the deal threatened to reignite the row that developed in the summer between the First Minister and Tony Blair, who Mr Salmond accused of stitching up a deal during a visit to Libya with Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Mr Straw and Mr Salmond are believed to be on better terms, but last night Mr Salmond accused him of going back on a pledge to get Megrahi excluded from any transfer agreement.

"The timing of this agreement is both insensitive and inappropriate," said Mr Salmond.

"The case of Mr Megrahi is now before the Appeal Court, and we are approaching the 19th anniversary of the atrocity.

"The Scottish Government is deeply disappointed that the Lord Chancellor has failed to secure the exclusion of anyone connected to the Lockerbie bombing from the Prisoner Transfer Agreement," Mr Salmond added.

"This does underline that the previous Prime Minister's administration was less than candid when they claimed the transfer agreement actually excluded Mr Megrahi."

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