Interior minister says Britain should answer questions about its relationship with Gaddafi before UK police are allowed to visit
Libya has all but closed the door on allowing British police to travel to the country to investigate the Lockerbie bombing and the killing of the police officer Yvonne Fletcher.
The interior minister, Fawzi Abdel A’al, said there was no treaty allowing UK police to visit Libya, and any agreement at some future date might depend on whether Britain answered questions about its past involvement with Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
“There is no treaty between Britain and Libya to allow such a thing,” he said in an interview with the Guardian and Agence France Press.
“The Libyan people have questions for Britain when talking about this case,” he said of Fletcher’s death. “Why did they shut up about this all these years and bring it up now?”
Discussing Lockerbie and the release of the convicted bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds, he said: “Didn’t America and Britain accept millions of dollars from Gaddafi as the price to end this case? Who let Abdelbaset al-Megrahi go? Did we?
“Do you remember when Fletcher was killed? We are now in 2012. Where was the British government from 1984 until 2011?”
He said Britain needed to explain the reasons for the rapprochement between Britain and the Gaddafi regime in 2004, sealed when the former prime minister Tony Blair visited Libya.
“Why did the British government improve its relations with Gaddafi? Something happened in this case between the former Libyan regime and the British government to end this dispute. Didn’t the former British prime minister Tony Blair visit Libya more than one time? Saif al-Islam [Gaddafi’s son] came out one time in a statement to say that Blair was an adviser to his father. Blair was an adviser to Gaddafi after he left the government.”
Abdel A’al, a former Misratan district attorney who is seen by diplomats as a high flier in Libya’s cabinet, was appointed to the job in November and has access to tens of thousands of files detailing the Gaddafi regime’s dealings with foreign powers.
He said he might consent to an investigation by Libyan authorities without the involvement of UK police.
“We see that the best way to solve this now is that the British government ask the Libyan authorities to open an investigation inside Libya, and for the Libyan side to hand in all the information they have on this case so the Libyan authorities can start investigations.”
His statement is likely to be viewed as a setback to both the Metropolitan police, investigating the 1984 killing of Fletcher by shots fired from the London Libyan embassy, and Scottish police wanting to pursue the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in 1988.
In December the minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, met Abdel A’al in Tripoli and announced that Libya had agreed to allow UK investigators to visit Libya.
Instead, Libya’s authorities seem to have decided against it, although the governing National Transitional Council is due to hand over to an elected government in elections expected in June.
Abdel A’al said he had no animosity towards the British people. “Britain is loyal to the Libyan state and I don’t think the British politicians or the British people are trying to embarrass the Libyans by bringing up these cases at this time,” he said.
The interior minister also said he had armed units ready to attack a militia base in Tripoli to liberate two British journalists being held there, but wanted to give negotiations a chance.
The reporter Nick Davies and cameraman Gareth Montgomery-Johnson have been held by a Misratan militia at a base on Tripoli’s seafront since 23 February, accused of possible espionage.
“We have the capacity to raid this base, we are capable of applying a military solution, but this would cost a lot of blood so we continue to negotiate,” said Abdel A’al.
He said the Misratan militia unit had no authority for its capture and detention of the journalists. “The behaviour is completely illegal. Why do they detain journalists or anyone? We do not recognise any measures taken by this militia,” he said.