THE row over Britain’s relations with Libya has taken a new turn as Gordon Brown denied he had shied away from pressing Tripoli to compensate families of IRA victims who say Libya supplied the guerrillas with arms.
Lawyers and campaigners for the victims’ families accused Mr Brown of putting trade before justice after letters emerged suggesting he feared rocking improving relations.
They said it was evidence Brown was more concerned about jeopardising Tripoli’s growing trade ties and support for the war on terrorism, a charge his office strongly denied.
In two letters addressed to the victims’ lawyer Jason McCue last year, released by the prime minister’s office on Sunday, Brown said he had not considered it “appropriate” to discuss claims for compensation over arms sent to the IRA.
He also said growing trade relations were not the “core reason” for his decision, but acknowledged warming trade links did form part of a new relationship with Tripoli.
Brown’s government is already under fire for denying it pressed Scotland’s devolved government for the early release of the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing, in the interests of fostering better relations with Tripoli.
Last year campaigners met Brown when seeking cash payments from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who they say shipped Semtex explosives in the 1980s and 1990s to Republican bombers fighting to end British rule of Northern Ireland.
Lawyers representing victims’ families have evidence the plastic explosives were used in a series of IRA bomb attacks, according to a Sunday newspaper.
The campaign for cash settlements follows out-of-court deals agreed by Libya with three American victims of IRA bombings.
In a letter sent to McCue, dated October 7, 2008, Brown said: “The UK government does not consider it appropriate to enter into a bilateral discussion with Libya on this matter.”
In the same letter, seen by Reuters, he said Libya had already answered questions about involvement with the IRA and it would be strongly opposed to reopening the thorny issue.
“Those answers satisfied the then UK government and Libya has made it clear to us that they consider the matter closed.”
Brown went on to emphasise that growing trade ties were a consideration, but were not the main basis for not entering into direct negotiations.
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