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Libya said to agree to UTA airliner payout
( 2004-01-09 08:48) (Agencies)

A negotiator for families of 170 people killed in the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner said Thursday Libya had agreed a long-awaited compensation deal.

"The essential details have been settled," Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc told Reuters, adding he expected a formal signing ceremony with Libyan officials to take place in Paris Friday.

Denoix, who lost his father in the mid-air bombing over the west African state of Niger, which France blamed on six Libyans, declined to give the settlement figure.

Earlier, a spokeswoman for the head of the upper house of the French parliament said the visiting Libyan foreign minister had confirmed the payout would total $170 million on top of an earlier $34 million settlement.

The money is expected to be distributed among families of victims of 17 nationalities, including Africans, Americans, Britons and Italians who were aboard the UTA plane.

"Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abderrhmane Chalgam confirmed ... that the issue would be settled Friday," the French parliamentary spokeswoman said, adding that the signing would be accompanied by a separate declaration by France and Libya on strengthening ties.

Chalgam is due to meet his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, Friday for talks and a joint news conference.

France has insisted the UTA settlement must be part of any reconciliation between Libya and the West. Libya pledged last month to scrap its banned arms programs and last year agreed compensation for the 270 victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Paris threatened last year to veto the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Libya after Tripoli agreed to pay $2.7 billion compensation for the bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, a deal that dwarfed the initial $34 million UTA settlement.

France relented after Libya said it would increase compensation for the UTA bombing, for which six Libyans were convicted in absentia by a French court.

Subsequent negotiations with a private fund run by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son have proved stickier than expected, with Libyan officials setting conditions for the payout.

Those conditions include the creation of a Franco-Libyan "friendship pact" and agreement on the fate of the six convicted Libyans. Tripoli says the six are innocent.

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