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ICC To Pursue Qaddafi And His Circle Amid Fresh Fighting In Libya


Rebel forces ride on the back of a pick-up truck in Ajdabiya, Libya, on March 2.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he has launched a "crimes against humanity" investigation against Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi, some of his sons, and Qaddafi's "inner circle" who have de facto authority in Libya.

Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also put pro-Qaddafi security and military commanders "on notice" that they also could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity if they do nothing to stop their troops from carrying out attacks on civilians in Libya.

"The office will investigate who is most responsible for the most serious incidents, for the most serious crimes committed in Libya," Moreno-Ocampo said. "The office will present its evidence to the judges and the judges will decide whether or not to issue arrest warrants."

Moreno-Ocampo specified a half-dozen cases in which unarmed civilians in eastern Libya allegedly were killed by pro-Qaddafi forces on February 15, February 16, and February 20.

He said that "there will be no impunity in Libya" for those responsible for ordering troops to attack civilians.

The probe follows a UN Security Council resolution on February 26 that imposed sanctions against Qaddafi's regime and referred the situation to the International Criminal Court -- granting The Hague-based court formal jurisdiction.

"No one has the authority to attack and massacre civilians," Moreno-Ocampo said. "[The people of] the country can discuss how to organize themselves. And that's a valid discussion. Political discussion is normal business. As soon as someone commits crimes, this becomes our business and we'll try to investigate and stop that."

Qaddafi on March 2 launched into a tirade on Libyan state television against the uprising, alleging the antigovernment opposition was inspired by Al-Qaeda terrorists. Qaddafi also said the unrest was part of a conspiracy by Western countries to colonize Libya and seize its oil.

Qaddafi said that if the United States or NATO forces enter the conflict, "thousands and thousands of Libyans will die" and "another Vietnam will begin."

Qaddafi's Libyan Army is facing an increasingly organized and confident rebel force after a government offensive launched on March 2 failed to win back control of the eastern city of Brega from antigovernment fighters.

More recent reports from eastern Libya said forces loyal to Qaddafi had launched another counterattack on the outskirts of Brega that included fresh air strikes on Brega's airport and the nearby town of Dabiya.

Some Free Advice

Government troops, supported with air strikes by Libya's Air Force, briefly recaptured on March 2 the key oil export terminal at Brega, about 800 kilometers east of Tripoli. Opposition forces later took back the town and vowed to move west toward the capital, Tripoli, if Qaddafi refused to step down from power.

Military specialists say they doubt opposition forces have the offensive military capabilities needed to displace Qaddafi loyalists who remain in control of Tripoli. They warn that the inability of either side to achieve a clear victory suggests Libya is sliding into what could be a long and protracted civil war.

A Libyan who was wounded during fighting in the town of Brega lies in a hospital bed in Ajdabiya on February 2.
Libya's uprising is the bloodiest yet against long-serving rulers in the Middle East and North Africa. UN officials warn that the violent crackdown by government troops already has caused a humanitarian crisis -- especially on the Tunisian border where tens of thousands of foreign workers are trying to flee to safety.

With the struggle intensifying, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa said a peace plan proposed by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez was being considered.

Al-Jazeera television reports that Qaddafi and Musa had agreed to Chavez's plan -- which would involve a commission from Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East trying to mediate a negotiated outcome.

But correspondents in eastern Libya report that antigovernment leaders are refusing to start negotiations on any issue other than an exit plan for Qaddafi's regime.

A top Moldovan official has meanwhile been quoted by AP as saying that one of Qaddafi's sons visited Moldova in February just as the opposition protests were erupting. Mihai Ghimpu, head of the Liberal Party that is part of Moldova's ruling coalition, did not identify the son, saying only that he was a citizen of Libya born in 1972. Ghimpu, a former acting president, said Moldova's security service confirmed that one of Qaddafi's sons was in Chisinau from February 19-20, arriving from Vienna. Ghimpu said Moldova had not violated UN Security Council sanctions against Qaddafi's family, as the son had visited before they were adopted.

No-Go On No-Fly?

With international pressure increasing on Qaddafi's regime, ICC chief prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo estimated the number of those killed in the crackdown at between 600 and several thousand.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States would help in the ICC investigation.

"Related to the move by the United Nations to refer what's happening in Libya to the ICC, we are closely using all of our resources to monitor what is happening in Libya to make sure that perpetrators of human rights abuses and atrocities against peaceful civilians are held accountable for their actions," Carney said.

But Washington appears to be backing away from calls for a UN Security Council resolution that would authorize a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Qaddafi's air force from launching air strikes against civilians.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a congressional hearing in Washington on March 2 that imposing a no-fly zone would be a complicated military campaign requiring more aircraft than one U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is able to launch.

"Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses," Gates said. "That's the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down."

Qaddafi launched into a tirade on Libyan state television on March 2 against the uprising, alleging that the antigovernment opposition was inspired by Al-Qaeda terrorists. Qaddafi also said the unrest was part of a conspiracy by Western countries to colonize Libya and seize its oil.

Qaddafi said that if the United States or NATO forces entered the conflict, "thousands and thousands of Libyans will die" and "another Vietnam will begin."

based on agency reports