August 31, 2009 / 5:05 PM / 9 years ago

INTERVIEW-Libya denies Megrahi release linked to oil deals

* Libya says no link between oil deals and Megrahi release

* Gaddafi’s son denies any official ‘hero’s welcome’

* Libya hoping for more cooperation with west

By Tom Pfeiffer

TRIPOLI, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Libya on Monday dismissed speculation that it had swung oil deals in Britain’s favour on an understanding that the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing would be released.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was freed from prison in Scotland on compassionate grounds and sent home to Libya to a rapturous reception that angered the U.S. government and relatives of the 270 people who died in the downing of a Pan Am jumbo jet.

The British oil giant BP (BP.L) won access to some of Libya’s biggest and most promising exploration areas in 2007 after the north African country emerged from years of harsh sanctions.

But the British government has denied media reports suggesting that it sought to have Scottish authorities free Megrahi in order to ease diplomatic and commercial ties with Libya, which has the biggest oil reserves in Africa. [ID:nLU629219]

"Linking this (BP contract) with a deal over Megrahi makes me laugh," said Mohammed Siala, secretary for international cooperation at the Libyan Foreign Ministry. "We have our laws and tender process and BP is a very good actor in the oil field and we are satisfied with what they are doing.

"We are talking about economic resources belonging to every Libyan and no one can do anything that differs from this very transparent process."

Libya has always denied any role in the bombing. Its leader Muammar Gaddafi thanked Britain warmly for Megrahi’s return, saying it would have a positive effect on bilateral relations.


Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam said there had been no official reception for Megrahi, and that most of those welcoming him when he touched down had been members of his extended family. [nLV306044]

"The strong reactions to these misperceptions must not be allowed to impair the improvements in a mutually beneficial relationship between Libya and the West," he wrote in Monday’s International Herald Tribune. [ID:nLP433595]

Libya has emerged from diplomatic isolation since scrapping a programme of banned weapons and agreeing to pay compensation for attacks for which it was blamed by the West.

Its former arch-enemy, the United States, has re-opened its Tripoli embassy and foreign companies have arrived to explore for oil and vie for contracts to build roads, hotels, schools and phone networks.

Asked whether Libya was now happy with the rewards for its efforts to mend relations with the West, Siala said: "No, just the opposite.

"We believe we have not been rewarded according to our efforts ... There must be more transfer of technology, there must be more help, especially in the civil use of nuclear technology. Also in scholarships and training."

He said talks were under way with European countries to ease long-standing two-way visa restrictions, and that some countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy were trying to move ahead.

But an agreement was first needed among European states under the Schengen agreement that removed border controls across much of western Europe.

Visa restrictions remain an obstacle to the deeper cooperation being sought by Libya and its northern neighbours.

"We are willing to issue visas within 48 or 24 hours and are willing to abolish visas for some countries, if they can do the same in reciprocity," said Siala.

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