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IRA victims furious over training scheme for Libyan police officers

Victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism in Northern Ireland reacted furiously to the news that police officers from the province were now training their counterparts in Tripoli.

London // Victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism in Northern Ireland reacted furiously yesterday to the news that police officers from the province were now training their counterparts in Tripoli. Police representatives on the British mainland also condemned the move because Libyan president Muammer Qadafi is refusing to co-operate with an investigation into the death of Yvonne Fletcher, a female police officer who was shot dead outside the Libyan Embassy in London 25 years ago.

The disclosure of the training agreement with Libya represents the latest twist in the close scrutiny that ties between the two countries have been subjected to since the controversial release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al Megrahi last month. According to a report in The Times yesterday, the training programme has been running for two years, during which time Scotland Yard detectives trying to visit Libya to investigate Fletcher's death have been refused visas.

Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation, said the news of the training agreement would "disgust rank-and-file officers who believe Libya should and could be more proactive in securing the arrest of Pc Fletcher's killer". In Northern Ireland, where hundreds were killed - including many police officers - in the 1980s and 90s with weapons and explosives supplied to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) by Libya, there was disbelief at the news.

Two senior officers from Northern Ireland have made visits to Tripoli in the past year to help train police there in forensics under the auspices of the UK's National Policing Improvement Agency. William Frazer, of victims' group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, said: "I am that shocked by this. I am finding it hard to take in. A lot of people are very unhappy about it, especially police officers, some of who have been ringing today to voice their anger and upset.

"You couldn't write the script for this, and if you did it would be Monty Python. Here we have the police out training the people who trained the IRA and supplied the weapons to murder their colleagues. It's just unbelievable." The news of the deployment of officers to Tripoli comes at a time when IRA victims and their families are attempting to mount legal action against Libya for compensation. "Until this matter of compensation and Libyan redress towards the victims is addressed, then this is an area that needs to be put on hold and the officers who are there should be withdrawn," said Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. "This is totally inappropriate and offensive that Police Service of Northern Ireland officers were selected to provide training given the very recent history of what the Libyans have done in terms of the annals of terrorism in Northern Ireland."

But Ian Paisley Jr, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, defended the decision to send officers to Libya. "In an adult world you don't have to be a genius to work out why it would be useful to have a senior officer, who has got intelligence skills, to look at Libya and to examine that country and to look at the facts that surround that country and to bring that information back to us," he said.

However, Basil McCrea, another member of the police board, said he had known nothing of the arrangement. "I just cannot believe that we are sending officers to deal with Libya, a country primarily responsible for the last 30 or 40 years of death and destruction." Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, described the scheme, which has also involved Libyan officers studying in the UK, as "a rapprochement too far". He added: "This is a slap in the face for the family of Pc Yvonne Fletcher, not least because the murder inquiry is still open."

Fletcher, 25, was shot dead by a gunman hiding inside the Libyan Embassy in 1984. After Tony Blair ended Col Qadafi's international isolation by establishing diplomatic ties in 2004, Scotland Yard officers visited Tripoli on several occasions. However, since 2007, all attempts to pursue these investigations in Libya have been thwarted with repeated rejections for visas. dsapsted@thenational.ae

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