Lockerbie: Calling Ghadafi's Bluff

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For the relatives of Lockerbie’s victims, the day of reckoning may be tantalizingly close. According to a report in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the U.K. and U.S. have agreed to allow a trial of the two Libyan suspects in a neutral country, the Netherlands. That would represent a U-turn of seismic proportions -- and put the pressure back on Colonel Ghadafi to hand over the men supposedly responsible for the 1988 Pan Am bombing that killed 270 people. For the past seven years, London and Washington have obstinately insisted that the suspects be tried on their soil. Ghadafi has said he will only accept a trial at The Hague, home of the International Court.

The turnaround, if true, would be credited to the shaky state of U.N. sanctions imposed in the wake of Libya’s refusal to hand over the suspects; after receiving guests such as Nelson Mandela and President Mubarak of Egypt, Ghadafi is no longer the pariah he once was. "Sanctions can be pushed only so far," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "There was a danger that U.S. authority was going to be eroded." Agreeing to a trial in Holland, however, may be the Anglo-American way of seizing the moral high ground: Diplomatic sources tell the Guardian that the two countries do not believe Ghadafi will hand over the suspects at all and are simply trying to call his bluff. The relatives will be hoping the colonel is a man of his word.