Africa

International Court in Indirect Talks With Qaddafi's Son

March 10, 2011: Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, gestures as he speaks to supporters and the media in Tripoli, Libya.

March 10, 2011: Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, gestures as he speaks to supporters and the media in Tripoli, Libya.

Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the fugitive son of Libya's toppled leader, told the International Criminal Court he is innocent of alleged crimes against humanity, the court prosecutor said on Saturday in the Chinese capital, Reuters reports. 

The court, based in The Hague, has said it made informal contact with Saif al-Islam, the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, and is seeking to arrest him and bring him to trial on the charges stemming from Libya's civil war.

The International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters the contacts were through intermediaries, and Saif al-Islam maintained his innocence and wanted to understand what could happen to him if cleared of charges.

"There are some people connected with him that are in touch with people connected with us, so we have no direct relation, it's through intermediaries," Moreno-Ocampo said in a brief interview after arriving in Beijing, where he is attending a law conference.

"But we trust very much the person who is in touch for our side. He says he is innocent, he will prove he is innocent, and then he is interested in the consequence after that

The 39-year-old was reported to be heading through the desert to Mali, where the former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi fled Wednesday.

An adviser to the president of Niger said Qaddafi should cross the border into Mali later Friday or Saturday.

Qaddafi and al-Senoussi were indicted by the International Criminal Court in June for unleashing a campaign of murder and torture to suppress the uprising against the Qaddafi regime that broke out in February.

The adviser in Niger, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Qaddafi was driving through the desert across an invisible line that separates Algeria from Niger. He said Saif al-Islam is being aided by Tuaregs, nomadic desert dwellers who supported Qaddafi and were angered by the manner of his death.

In Mali, Foreign Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said he had no information about Qaddafi's whereabouts but that if he were to enter Malian territory, its government would respect any international arrest warrant. "Whatever happens, Mali will respect its obligations in relation to the International Criminal Court. We are absolutely clear on that."

In Bamako, Mali's capital, Tuaregs and other Muslims crowded into a grand mosque built by the ousted Libyan strongman to hold Friday prayers in honor of Qaddafi, who died about a week ago in his hometown of Sirte in the final battle of Libya's civil war.

Conveying a sense of urgency, Moreno-Ocampo said he believed Qaddafi also was in touch with unidentified mercenaries offering to find him refuge in an African country that does not cooperate with the court.

He mentioned Zimbabwe as a likely possibility, and said the court was in contact with other countries to prevent Qaddafi's escape by denying any plane carrying him permission to fly through its air space.

"We are having informal conversations with Saif Qaddafi in order to see if he can be surrendered to the court," Moreno-Ocampo said in a telephone call from The Hague.

"We know he has a different option because apparently there is a group of mercenaries willing to move him to a country, probably Zimbabwe," the prosecutor said. Some of the mercenaries may be from South Africa, he said.

Qaddafi was pressing for clarifications about his fate should he be acquitted, and Moreno-Ocampo said he has made it clear to the fugitive that he could ask the judges to send him to a country other than Libya.

"He says he is innocent and he will prove his innocence," the prosecutor said.

Moreno-Ocampo also said the court was waiting for documentary evidence confirming the death of Muammar Qaddafi to formally close the case against him.

Saif al-Islam, whom the court described as the de facto prime minister during the early months of the uprising, was the heir apparent in the regime that ruled Libya for 42 years.

The U.N. Security Council authorized the court, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, to investigate events in Libya in February. The council's action was necessary because Libya did not recognize the court's jurisdiction and has not ratified its founding treaty.

But after the victory of rebel forces, it was unclear whether the National Transitional Council now governing Libya would seek to have Qaddafi handed over for trial in his own country or let the international court proceed with its case.

Human Rights Watch said the court's contacts with Saif al-Islam marked an important turn in the Libyan case.

"The gruesome killing of Muammar Qaddafi last week underscores the urgency of ensuring that his son, Saif al-Islam, be promptly handed over to the International Criminal Court for fair trial in The Hague," Richard Dicker, the director of the New York-based organization's International Justice Program, said in an email. "This will best ensure that justice is done for the serious crimes Saif is charged with having committed."

The court, which began work in 2002, has indicted alleged warlords or political leaders in seven African countries, including the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide in the Darfur region. It has no police force of its own and relies on the law enforcement agencies of member states to make arrests.

It has not yet delivered a verdict in any of the cases.

Reuters contributed to this report.