Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Reports from Libya
Libya court orders civil trial for Gaddafi "loyalists"
BENGHAZI (Reuters) - A Libyan military court ruled on Wednesday that 50 people accused of fighting for Muammar Gaddafi and helping a mass jail break by alleged supporters of the deposed leader should be freed and tried instead in a civilian court.
Defense lawyers welcomed the ruling, saying most of the accused were civilians and that the military court on a base in the eastern city of Benghazi was struggling to try the case.
"We feel this court is under pressure and... does not have the necessary judicial independence," said Saleh Omran, who represents 17 of the accused, denying that his clients were Gaddafi supporters.
"They helped the prisoners escape from jail because some of those held were their relatives and they were protecting them. It has nothing to do with Gaddafi's men," he said.
A transitional government was appointed in November to lead Libya to elections but it is struggling to impose order on myriad armed groups that toppled Gaddafi last year after 42 years in power.
It has been keen to try Gaddafi's family members and loyalists at home, but human rights activists worry that a weak central government and a lack of rule of law could rob them of the right to a fair trial.
The defendants are facing charges of using force against the revolutionary forces, terrorizing civilians and helping prisoners escape, as well as inciting people to commit crimes. Omran said some of those charges carry the death penalty.
The defendants are part of a militia that helped what officials from the transitional council said at the time were about 300 Gaddafi loyalists escape from custody in July.
Fifteen witnesses called to give evidence on Wednesday did not show up and hearings have been postponed twice since the trial began on February 5, for security reasons and pending a request by some of the lawyers to review the evidence.
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Lawyers for the daughter of Muammar Qaddafi have filed a formal petition at the International Criminal Court seeking an authorized copy of the former Libyan leader’s death certificate.
Aisha Qaddafi’s lawyer Nick Kaufman said Wednesday the move is intended in part to show that Libya’s National Transitional Council isn’t capable of holding a fair trial for her brother Seif al-Islam, who was arrested in the country’s remote southern desert in November.
The war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands has previously told Aisha, who is in Algeria, to seek information via Libya’s new authorities. But Kaufman says no part of the new government has responded to her requests for basic information about her father’s death usually accorded to relatives, and it is not clear where she should apply.
Kaufman said by telephone Wednesday, “who are the Libyan ‘authorities?’“
The Hague court, which was authorized by the U.N. to investigate war crimes committed during Libya’s civil war, dropped its case against Muammar Qaddafi after his death at the hands of opposing forces on Oct. 20.
However, the court, known by its acronym ICC, has not yet ruled on the new Libyan government’s plans to try Seif and former Libyan intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi in Libya. The ICC indicted the men for crimes against humanity, including multiple murders, allegedly committed during the former regime’s crackdown on dissent.
Although the court only pursues war crimes cases a country itself cannot or will not try, Libyan authorities must still persuade international judges that the men will get a fair trial, on basically the same charges they would have faced in The Hague.
Judges have asked Libya whether Seif is being held incommunicado, as Kaufman asserts, and whether ICC officials can visit him to check on his health and ask him whether he has legal representation.
The transitional government’s reply was filed confidentially in January.
Kaufman said Libya’s reluctance to disclose the death certificate - copies of which have been widely circulated on the Internet - shows it is even less likely to turn over documents such as an autopsy report, which may contain incriminating evidence.
The court’s prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the United Nations last year there are “serious suspicions” Muammar Qaddafi’s death was itself a war crime because he may have been summarily executed after being taken into custody.
Kaufman said Libya’s new government has a moral and legal obligation to give Aisha information such as the death certificate, autopsy report and exact location of Muammar’s grave.
“Why are the Libyan authorities claiming they are capable of trying Seif al-Islam when they can’t take care of properly handling a single document?” Kaufman said.
Wed Feb 22, 2012 4:41pm EST
* Neighbours to exchange high-level meetings
* Talks to focus on combatting insurgents, arms smugglers
* Libya, Algeria ties fraught since Gaddafi's overthrow
By Lamine Chikhi and Ali Shuaib
ALGIERS/TRIPOLI, Feb 22 (Reuters) - North African neighbours Libya and Algeria are to exchange high-level visits in an attempt to re-launch cooperation in fighting arms trafficking and Islamist insurgents in the Sahara desert.
Security ties had been effectively on hold since the revolt last year which ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule in Libya, because of disputes between Algeria and Libya's new leadership.
Cooperation between the two countries is a crucial component in trying to stop arms smugglers and insurgents, including al Qaeda, using the Sahara desert as a safe haven - a problem made worse by the instability following Gaddafi's fall.
Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia told Reuters his Libyan counterpart Fawzi Abdel A'al would soon visit Algeria.
"What is important in this issue is security on our borders and stability in Libya, because instability will have repercussions for us," Kablia said in an interview late on Tuesday.
"We will soon welcome the Libyan interior minister, and likewise visits are also planned by Algerian officials to Libya," Ould Kablia said.
The Libyan interior minister confirmed that a meeting was planned with his Algerian opposite number.
Abdel A'al, speaking to Reuters, said there was an agreement that Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia would visit Libya. He did not say when this would happen.
There have been no high-level visits between Libya and Algeria since a NATO-backed rebellion ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule and installed a new leadership.
Algeria's relations with Libya's new leaders have been fraught because Algeria did not back the anti-Gaddafi rebellion and was slow to recognise the rebel leadership.
The tension was heightened when Algeria decided to give refuge, it said on humanitarian grounds, to Gaddafi's wife, daughter and two of his sons who fled there after Tripoli fell to the rebellion.
A series of security incidents in the past weeks have, however, underlined the need for the two countries to patch up their differences and cooperate.
Last month, an Algerian regional governor was kidnapped and taken by his captors across the border into Libya, where he was released about 24 hours later. Algerian security sources said the kidnappers had ties to al Qaeda's north African wing.
This month, Algerian security forces uncovered a cache of weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, believed to have been smuggled in from Libya, a security source briefed on the discovery said.
The Libyan Interior Minister told Reuters the fact that Algerian security forces had found weapons caches was testament to good cooperation with their Libyan counterparts.
Western governments are keen for regional states to work more closely together to combat insurgents in the Sahara desert.
It is an area where al Qaeda mounts kidnappings and occasional attacks on Western targets, and where, in Mali, Tuareg rebels are fighting government security forces.
Those problems have been aggravated by the rebellion in Libya, during which huge quantities of weapons disappeared from Gaddafi's arsenals and Libyan border security largely collapsed.
Western states believe there is a risk that insurgencies in the Sahara could fuel violent Islamist movements in other parts of Africa, particularly Somalia and northern Nigeria, heightening the threat to Western interests.