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Lockerbie trial enters final stages

Pan Am
The wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 in which 270 people died in 1988  

CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands -- Judges in the Lockerbie trial are preparing to return to court after nearly two weeks considering the fate of two Libyans accused of causing the air disaster.

Evidence in the long-running case closed earlier this month after hearing 84 days of evidence from a total of 230 witnesses.

Before retiring on January 18, presiding judge Lord Sutherland said the judges would return to the special Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist, on January 30, when they expect to set a date to return their verdict.

The panel of three judges must decide whether the two accused men -- Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, an alleged member of the Libyan Intelligence Services, and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah -- are guilty or innocent of the mass murder.

Under Scots Law, the judges also have the option of a third verdict -- not proven -- which has the same effect as a not guilty verdict.

A total of 270 people died when New York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21 1988.

The prosecution says it has proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that the men in the dock are guilty.

It is alleged that Al Megrahi, 48, and Fhimah, 44, worked together to plant an unaccompanied suitcase containing a bomb, packed inside a Toshiba radio cassette recorder, on board an Air Malta flight at Luqa airport, Malta.

From there it was tagged to join doomed Flight 103 at Frankfurt and for onward transfer to New York via Heathrow.

Both men deny the charges.

The Crown has dismissed defence claims that others, including two Palestinian terror groups, were responsible for the outrage.

Once the verdict has been announced, it is expected that Britain will swiftly review its relations with Libya.

While diplomatic ties between the two nations were fully re-established in 1999, officials said the response of the Libyan Government to the Lockerbie verdict would be key to the future relationship.

"The judgment overall on Libya... will be contingent on how they respond to the verdict," one government source said on Monday.

Britain and Libya re-established diplomatic relations after Tripoli agreed to pay compensation for the fatal shooting of a London policewoman and also agreed to hand over the Lockerbie suspects for trial.

British officials said their talks with Libya since then had suggested the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his administration were keen "to put Lockerbie behind them."

"Their body language over the last few years has been that they want to accept the verdict and move on," one source said.

Against this background, officials said there was a "reasonable expectation" that a final verdict in the Lockerbie trial -- whether Al Megrahi and Fhimah are found guilty or not guilty -- could pave the way for the full lifting of United Nations sanctions against Libya.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Lockerbie Trial
Pan Am Flight 103
United Nations
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British Government
Lockerbie Investigation
Scottish Parliament

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