ICC prosecutor seeks Gaddafi`s arrest over protest deaths

Thousands of people have been killed in Libya, the bloodiest of the revolts in the Middle East.

Last Updated: May 17, 2011, 00:01 AM IST

The Hague: An international prosecutor on Monday sought an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi accusing him of committing crimes against humanity by killing protesters during an uprising against his 41-year rule.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, International Criminal Court prosecutor, also asked judges, who now need to see if there is enough evidence to issue warrants, for the arrest of Gaddafi`s son Saif al-Islam and his spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi.

Moreno-Ocampo signaled his action earlier this month when he said he would seek three arrests for the "pre-determined" killing of protesters in Libya after the UN Security Council referred the violence to the Hague-based court in February.

"The office gathered direct evidence about orders issued by Muammar Gaddafi himself, direct evidence of Saif al-Islam organizing the recruitment of mercenaries and direct evidence of the participation of al-Senussi in the attacks against demonstrators," Moreno-Ocampo said at the ICC on Monday.

Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict in the North African oil-producing desert nation, the bloodiest of the revolts which have convulsed the Middle East in what has been called the "Arab Spring."

The prosecutor moved with unprecedented speed in his investigation into the early violence in the uprising against Gaddafi`s rule, with the request for arrest warrants coming just 2-1/2 months after the Security Council referral.

He added the office of the prosecutor also documented how the three held meetings "to plan the operations" and Gaddafi used his "absolute authority to commit crimes in Libya."

Libyan officials have already denounced the ICC prosecutor`s action, saying the court is a creation of the West for prosecuting African leaders.

Rebels welcomed the prosecutor`s move.

"We have been impatiently waiting for such a decision. It is an important decision," said Belkacem, a rebel spokesman in the besieged city of Misrata. "Gaddafi hasn`t stopped killing our brothers in all areas across Libya."

Libyan officials deny killing civilians, saying instead they were forced to take action against criminal armed gangs and al Qaeda militants. They say a NATO bombing campaign is an act of colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya`s oil.

Moreno-Ocampo said the swiftness of his investigation stems from global consensus that the crimes committed in Libya had to be investigated, although judges will now need to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the warrants.

He said the office of the prosecutor documented how the three named held meetings "to plan the operations" and Gaddafi used his "absolute authority to commit crimes in Libya."

The ICC has no police force and relies on member states to enforce arrests. Despite NATO bombing operations intended to protect civilians, Libya has been plunged into civil war, seriously complicating efforts to arrest ICC suspects.

Moreno-Ocampo had said his request for warrants would be based on "strong evidence," which would include photographs, video footage and the testimony of government insiders.

Libya is not an ICC member state and is therefore not obliged to arrest the court`s suspects.

"The request for these warrants is a reminder to all in Gaddafi`s regime that crimes will not go unpunished and the reach of international justice will be long," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

Three months after a revolt began against Gaddafi`s four-decade rule, fighting between rebels and government forces on several fronts has come to a near-standstill and Gaddafi is refusing to bow to efforts to force him from power.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, asked about the possibility of arranging exile for Gaddafi, said, "If we talk about it now, we`ll burn this possibility."

"We`re obviously working with the United Nations on finding exactly this way out," he told Canale 5 television on Monday.

"A political way out that would remove the dictator and his family from the scene and allow the immediate creation of a government of national reconciliation," he said.

NATO warplanes, acting under a UN mandate to protect civilians, have stopped government troops advancing on rebel strongholds but the collapse of Gaddafi`s rule, which many Western governments seek, has not materialized.

After a series of air strikes on his Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli, Gaddafi taunted the Western military alliance, saying in an audio recording that he was in a place where NATO could not reach him.

Responding to remarks at the weekend by a senior British commander that NATO needed to broaden its range of targets, a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday: "Targets are a matter for NATO."

The spokesman said: "We are not seeking to broaden or change the, or seek a new, U.N. resolution."

NATO said it conducted 147 air sorties on Saturday, 48 of them strike sorties that aim to identify and hit targets but do not always deploy munitions. Targets included surface-to-air missile launchers, ammunition stores and artillery pieces.

The uncertain direction of the Libyan conflict poses a dilemma for Western governments. They face voters who are impatient for quick results and want to avoid a repeat of the long-drawn-out fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An inconclusive outcome is likely to limit Libyan oil exports, keeping world prices high, and drive thousands more migrants to risk death crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.

Previous NATO bombing campaigns, especially in Kosovo in the late 1990s, showed that more aggressive targeting carries with it the risk of civilian casualties.

In Tripoli -- where foreign reporters operate under restrictions on their movement -- the outward signs were that Gaddafi`s administration was holding firm.

Security officials in North Africa and elsewhere warn al Qaeda`s north African branch could exploit the chaos of a long conflict in Libya to acquire weapons and recruit followers.

Bureau Report