The British Middle East minister’s approach to compensation for victims of Libya-IRA terrorism has been slammed as “outrageous” after his first trip to the state in five years.
Last week Alistair Burt met senior Libyan politicians on a wide range of issues.
However, victims’ representatives later accused him of soft-pedalling on compensation while focusing on British commercial interests and oil.
Upon his return Mr Burt said the UK “is a strong partner and friend of Libya” and that improved stability gave him “a chance to talk about the economy with those who look to see that the oil resource here is well used for the benefit of everyone”.
Only further down his statement did he mention that there are “legacy issues from the Gaddafi era” to talk about.
Libyan dictator Col Gaddafi gave 120 tonnes of weapons to the IRA and last year the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee recommended that the UK press Libya for compensation for victims. However, no progress has been made.
Victims’ lawyer Jason McCue said that – like those UK leaders who have gone before him – Mr Burt is “putting UK victims and justice behind commercial opportunism”.
He added: “It’s as outrageous as it is ridiculous. His predecessors did the same and UK business got zero in return. All at the cost of UK victims of Gaddafi.”
His managing partner Matt Jury said it was “telling” that ‘legacy’ came so far down Mr Burt’s statement.
“After decades of injustice and seeing the US, France and Germany fight successfully for the rights of their victims, they want to see something done,” he said. “The time for mere talk has passed.”
Lady Sylvia Hermon MP said she was “really puzzled and disappointed” by Mr Burt’s comments.
“If, as the minister claims, the UK has now become ‘a strong partner and friend of Libya’, then why on earth didn’t he use his visit as an opportunity to request compensation for the victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA violence?” she asked.
Jonathan Ganesh of the Docklands Victims Association added that government delays have put victims through “absolute hell” and that a number “have taken their own lives during our campaign for equality”.
The Foreign Office said resolving the issue is a priority it continues to press Libya on, but that it remains Libya’s responsibility.
As well as Mr Burt’s visit, it said, the foreign secretary has raised the issue “at the highest levels” during two separate visits, however violence and instability in Libya is curtailing progress.