Uganda says it would welcome Libya`s Gaddafi

Uganda is the 1st country to publicly volunteer to give Libyan leader a home.

Nairobi: The list of countries where Muammar Gaddafi might spend a comfortable life in exile is a lot shorter today than it would have been in years past because of global monetary sanctions and possible trial at the International Criminal Court.

Uganda`s deposed dictator, Idi Amin, found refuge first in Libya and eventually in Saudi Arabia in 1980, living in his own villa with female companionship, food and drink.

That kind of good life may not be likely for Gaddafi.

In a twist of fate, Uganda said on Wednesday it would accept Libya`s leader, the first country to publicly volunteer to give him a home.

Of course, Gaddafi may never leave Libya unless overbearing military power forces him to, although world leaders are hoping the strongman will go, and there are indications that his aides are seeking an exit for a man who has held power for more than 40 years.

The Uganda President`s spokesman justified the offer of refuge, saying that Ugandans were given asylum in neighbouring countries during the rule of Amin, who killed tens of thousands of his countrymen in the 1970s.

"So we have soft spots for asylum seekers. Gaddafi would be allowed to live here if he chooses to do so," spokesman Tamale Mirundi said.

Other countries on a list of potential landing points are the African nations of Chad, Mali, Niger, Eritrea and Sudan, although the first three are members of the ICC and would, in theory, be obliged to arrest Gaddafi if he is charged.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has a long friendship with Gaddafi and has called for mediation in the conflict, said on Wednesday that he has spoken with Gaddafi recently and that the Libyan leader has no plans to seek refuge in another country.

"He has said on different occasions that he isn`t going to leave Libya," Chavez said at a news conference in Uruguay, where he was asked whether Venezuela would welcome Gaddafi as an exile. "I think Gaddafi is doing what he has to do, no? Resisting against an imperial attack."

Besides Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua have been openly supportive of Gaddafi, said Mark Palmer, a former US ambassador and an expert on dictators. Because the Libyan leader has a large ego, he is more likely to accept going to one of those countries than a smaller African nation like Eritrea.

Saudi Arabia is an outside possibility, as is Belarus, which is led by Europe`s last dictator and was accused of sending weapons to Gaddafi until an international arms embargo kicked in.

Some experts cast doubt on whether Gaddafi would ever leave Libya.

"I don`t think Gaddafi`s going to go anywhere," said Adam Habib, a political scientist at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. "I think he`s happy to die there."

Italy has been pushing for the African Union to come up with a possible place for exile, but Brahan Khellaf — the special assistant to AU commissioner for peace and security Ramtane Lamamra — said on Wednesday that the topic of Gaddafi`s exile has not been discussed "at all”.

Palmer, like many analysts, said he doesn`t believe Gaddafi will leave Libya voluntarily and instead must face heavy military pressure and be given a guarantee he won`t end up before the International Criminal Court, which opened in 2002.

"He obviously believes he is Libya, and his family is deeply entrenched in the power structure and the wealth of the country. So I`m sure his family is also saying `Don`t go, don`t go’," said Palmer, the author of `Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World`s Last Dictators by 2025`.

Palmer said that while Gaddafi "richly deserves" to face the ICC, an international guarantee that he won`t face the court is a small price to pay to let Libya proceed in peace.

British Prime Minister David Cameron`s spokesman, Steve Field, insisted there was no dispute between those nations that hoped Gaddafi would quickly flee into exile and those which have demanded he stand trial. He said Britain believed Gaddafi could face a reckoning for his actions, even if he finds a haven outside Libya.

"I don`t actually think that precludes anyone being held accountable by the International Criminal Court," Field told reporters on Wednesday.

If Gaddafi is granted exile, he might choose a country that does not recognise the court, which is investigating him for possible crimes against humanity committed in the early days of his crackdown on anti-government rebels. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is expected to decide by May whether to indict Gaddafi and other senior members of his regime.

Because the UN Security Council ordered the ICC`s investigation into Libya, any UN member state would be obliged to execute an arrest warrant. However, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir also has been indicted, for crimes including genocide in Darfur, following a Security Council-mandated probe and has travelled to friendly nations several times without arrest.

Gaddafi may also want to take into account the case of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who went into voluntary exile in Nigeria after being indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003. Taylor was arrested in 2006 while trying to cross from Nigeria to Cameroon shortly after Nigeria agreed, under international pressure, that he should stand trial.

The Sierra Leone court`s then-prosecutor, Desmond De Silva, said Taylor`s arrest sent a "clear message that no matter how rich, powerful or feared people may be, the law is above them."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said negotiations on securing Gaddafi`s exit were being conducted with "absolute discretion" and that there were options on the table that hadn`t yet been formalized. Libya`s foreign minister travelled to neighbouring Tunisia on Tuesday, then left for London. The purpose of the trips wasn`t clear.

"What is indispensable is that there be countries that are willing to welcome Gaddafi and his family, obviously, to end this situation which otherwise could go on for some time," Frattini said on Tuesday.

Frattini added that no "safe-conduct pass" would be granted. "No one can think of any commitment to judicial immunity," especially Italy, a founder of the International Criminal Court.

Amin died in Saudi Arabia in 2003. Palmer noted that Amin lived like a member of the Saudi royal family despite the thousands of people he had killed.

Bureau Report

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