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France: Pay more to UTA families

De Villepin
De Villepin: Le Monde suggested France was snubbed by the talks.

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PARIS, France (Reuters) -- French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Libya's decision to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs was an important move.

However, Villepin urged Libya to "implement without delay" its commitment to compensating families of victims of the bombing of a French airliner in 1989.

"Libya is heading down the path of disarmament. It's a success for the entire international community," Villepin told reporters at the Foreign Ministry.

"France acclaims the diplomatic efforts of Britain and the United States, which allowed this result to be achieved," said Villepin, whose country spearheaded Western opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq in which Britain was a key ally.

France is pushing for a bigger role for the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq.

"This confirms the efficiency of the political approach to bringing a peaceful response to the major challenge of proliferation," said Villepin. "We are strong when the international community moves forward united."

He did not say if France was involved in talks Tripoli held with London and Washington over its decision to abandon its banned weapons program, a move that opens the prospect of an end to sanctions and the possible return of U.S. firms.

The French daily Le Monde said Paris had apparently been snubbed. A Foreign Ministry spokesman declined further comment.

France had threatened to veto the lifting of United Nations sanctions against Libya in September, after Tripoli agreed to pay $2.7 billion to families of 270 people killed in the 1988 bombing of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

It said it wanted more compensation for the families of 170 victims of the UTA plane bombed over Niger, but eventually dropped its opposition after a more favorable deal with Libya was reportedly struck over the crash.

Libya never acknowledged responsibility for the UTA bombing, but agreed to pay $34 million to families of the victims after a French court convicted six Libyans in absentia in 1999. Talks with the relatives over a more generous payout are continuing.

But French President Jacques Chirac betrayed impatience with Muammar Gadhafi during a visit to Tunis earlier this month for a regional summit also attended by the Libyan leader.

"Contacts have been renewed but no solution had been found. I regret it," Chirac said at the time. "Relations with Libya are always complicated."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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