Saad Djebbar, a London-based lawyer who has worked with the Libyans over the 1988 bombing of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, said on Saturday an intervention by French President Jacques Chirac could break the deadlock.

"I’m sure if President Chirac picked up the phone today and told Colonel (Muammar) Qadhafi that France would not veto the resolution - or better still that it would vote for the resolution - this will pave the way for better conditions for the families," he said.

Chirac telephoned Qadhafi last weekend to urge him to offer more cash to the families of the bombing victims, but a presidential spokeswoman declined to say whether the French leader planned to make a second call.

In a surprise development, however, the French Foreign Ministry said representatives of the families left for Tripoli late on Saturday afternoon for a fresh round of negotiations.

Diplomatic sources said the UN Security Council vote on ending sanctions against Libya - twice delayed by its sponsor Britain to allow more time for Franco-Libyan negotiations - had been tentatively rescheduled for Wednesday.

French veto

Veto-wielding France has said it cannot allow UN sanctions to be lifted until Libya increases the $34 million compensation paid to families of the 170 people killed in the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner over Africa.

Britain moved to end UN sanctions imposed on Libya over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing after Tripoli agreed this month to pay $2.7 billion to families of the Lockerbie victims.

Libya has offered $2.7 billion to
the families of Lockerbie victims


 
To avoid another embarrassing split in the Security Council after the row over the Iraq war, London twice agreed with Paris to delay the vote. But Britain signalled this week it was not prepared to wait indefinitely.
 
Although Libya has not admitted responsibility for the UTA bombing, it did pay compensation after a Paris court convicted six Libyans for the bombing in absentia.

Libyan irritation

A source familiar with the Libyan position, who did not wish to be identified, said Libya was irritated that France was using the Lockerbie award to demand more cash for French families years after the original UTA settlement.

Tripoli had wanted a deal to be ready in time for Monday's national holiday, which marks the anniversary of the coup that brought Qadhafi to power in 1969.

The source told Reuters that Libya had to date offered around $300,000 per family - far above the original payment - to be paid by a fund run by Qadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam.

He declined to say whether Tripoli was prepared to increase its offer.

If France backed the UN vote, the source added, Libyan Foreign Minister Muhammad Abderrhmane Chalgam could meet his French counterpart Dominique de Villepin and publicly state Libya's intention to make a gesture towards the UTA families.