Libya will not hand over Muammar Gaddafi's most prominent son Saif al-Islam to the International Criminal Court for trial, a minister said Tuesday as the war crimes court's prosecutor visited the country.
"In a nutshell, we are not going to hand him over," interim justice minister Mohammed al-Allagui said when asked about Saif, who was captured in Libya's far-flung Saharan south on Saturday after three months on the run.
Trying Saif "is the special responsibility of the Libyan courts. It is the prerogative of the Libyan courts. It is a question of our sovereignty over our territory and our citizens," said Allagui.
His comments came as the ICC's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo was in Tripoli for talks on jurisdiction in the cases of Saif and Gaddafi's spymaster Abdullah al-Senussi, both of whom are wanted by the court on charges of crimes against humanity.
Allagui said the prosecutor was very welcome to have a meeting with Saif al-Islam in custody to allay concerns that he might be subjected to ill-treatment after his father was killed when he was captured last month.
"If he (Moreno-Ocampo) asked for one, he would be most welcome," the minister said.
But asked by AFP whether he expected to meet Saif during his current visit, the ICC prosecutor said: "No."
The Gaddafi son is being held in the mainly Berber hill town of Zintan, in the Nafusa mountains some 170 kilometres (110 miles) southwest of Tripoli.
It was fighters from the town who captured Saif on Saturday.
After talks in Libya's second-largest city Benghazi on Tuesday, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said she had received assurances there would be no retaliatory mistreatment of Gaddafi's longtime heir apparent.
"The officials with whom I met assured me that Saif al-Islam was being held safely in a secure location, that he was being well treated and humanely treated... and that he would be tried and treated in a fair fashion and held accountable according to international standards," she said.
"So that was a clear-cut commitment that was made by the senior officials with whom I met," the US ambassador added.
Asked whether Washington had put any pressure on Libya's new authorities to hand Saif over for trial by the ICC in The Hague, Rice said: "We first of all think that these are issues for the Libyan people to determine."
Ahead of his trip, Moreno-Ocampo had said: "The issue of where the trials will be held has to be resolved through consultations with the court.
"In the end, the ICC judges will decide, there are legal standards which will have to be adhered to," he added.
Libya's ruling National Transitional Council insists that Saif be brought to Tripoli where he could face the death penalty.
NTC officials have yet to indicate their intentions regarding Senussi, who has been detained at a secret location and not seen in public since his capture.
Described as Gaddafi's "de facto prime minister", Saif is accused of implementing a brutal plan to put down Libya's uprising "by any means possible," ICC judges said in the document that authorised the arrest warrant issued against him in June.
As the most influential person in Gaddafi's inner circle, he "exercised control over crucial parts of the state apparatus, including finances and logistics," they added.
Senussi, the ousted leader's brother-in-law, has been described by the ICC as "one of the most powerful and efficient organs of repression of Muammar Gaddafi's regime" and is wanted for his role particularly in the former rebel-held city of Benghazi.
He is also wanted in France where a Paris court sentenced him in absentia to life in 1999 over an attack on a French UTA airliner a decade earlier that killed 170 people.
The ICC, which received the green light to probe crimes in Libya through a UN Security Council resolution on February 26, can only prosecute perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity if a country itself is unwilling or unable to do so.
Moreno-Ocampo's office said on Tuesday that it was continuing its investigation in Libya, which is nevertheless not a signatory to the ICC.
The prosecutor had said in May that another charge of war crimes, which included alleged rapes and attacks since the end of February, would be the subject of a separate investigation.
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