Colonel Muammar Qaddafi on Monday became the second Arab leader, after Sudan’s Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, to be sought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. But the Libyan dictator seemed to dismiss the ICC’s arrest warrant as inconsequential and unenforceable.
The Hague-based ICC issued arrests warrants for Colonel Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam, 39, and the head of Libyan intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi, for the murder and persecution of civilians who rebelled against his 42-year rule since February 17, 2011.
Libyan Justice Minister Mohammed Al Qamoodi told a news conference in Tripoli on Monday that the ICC arrests warrants would not affect Colonel Qaddafi and his son.
“Libya ... does not accept the decisions of the ICC which is a tool of the Western world to prosecute leaders in the Third World,” Mr. Al Qamoodi said.
“The leader of the revolution and his son do not hold any official position in the Libyan government and therefore they have no connection to the claims of the ICC against them,” he added.
Mr. Qaddafi holds no formal office in Libya’s political system despite having ruled for more than 41 years.
The ICC, however, had other views.
“The chamber hereby issues a warrant of arrest against Muammar Qaddafi,” Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said during a hearing at the Hague-based court.
“To prevent them covering up ongoing crimes and committing new crimes, they should be arrested. This is the only way to protect civilians in Libya,” said ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who had sought the arrest warrants.
The ruling is unlikely to lead to Mr. Qaddafi’s arrest as long he remains in power and inside Libya, because the court does not have the police power to enforce its warrants.
The White House issued a statement hailing the arrest warrants, which had been expected. Al Arabiya had broken the story more than a month ago.
Celebrations erupted in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, in eastern Libya, after the ICC ruling. People honked their car horns, waved flags, fired shots into the air and flashed victory signs in the street.
The ICC decision invalidated any notion of having negotiations with Mr. Qaddafi, insurgent officials said.
Colonel Qaddafi’s government denies targeting civilians, saying it took action against armed criminal gangs and al Qaeda militants. It says NATO should be prosecuted instead for killing civilians with its bombing campaign.
Anti-Qaddafi rebels, based in the Western Mountains region southwest of Tripoli, made their biggest breakthrough in weeks to reach the town of Bir al-Ghanam, where they are now fighting pro-Gaddafi forces for control, their spokesman said.
The advance took them about 30 kilometers (18 miles) north from their previous position and closer to Tripoli, Mr. Qaddafi’s biggest power base.
A senior United Nations official said the war on the ground was started to shift in favor of the insurgents, who for weeks have been bogged down in battles with Mr. Qaddafi’s forces.
“While we do not have a detailed understanding of the military situation on the ground, it is clear that the initiative, although halting, is now with the opposition forces, supported at times by NATO air power,” the UN under secretary general for political affairs, Lynn Pascoe, told the UN Security Council.
An African Union panel trying to broker a diplomatic solution to the Libyan crisis said on Saturday that Mr. Qaddafi would not take part in negotiations with the rebels.
A South African official, part of a team that travelled to Tripoli last month in a failed bid to launch peace talks, said that the latest developments indicate that Colonel Qaddafi is on his way out.
“This means he is finished,” he said.
Many analysts say Colonel Qaddafi and his family have no intention of relinquishing power. Instead, they say, the Libyan leader is holding out the possibility of a deal to try to widen cracks that have been emerging in the alliance ranged against him.
Meanwhile, three Libyan government ministers were in Tunisia for talks with international parties on efforts to halt the conflict in their country, Tunisia’s official news agency, TAP, reported on Monday.
It said Libya’s health minister, Mohammed Hijazi, and the social affairs minister, Ibrahim Sherif, arrived on Sunday in the tourist resort of Jerba, in southern Tunisia, where the talks were under way.
They joined Abdelati al-Obeidi, the Libyan foreign minister, who has been in Tunisia since last Wednesday and “in negotiations with several foreign parties,” TAP said without giving further details.
Such “visits” by senior Libyan officials to neighboring countries have sometimes led to their defections.
A senior official representing Libya’s rebels said they were expecting to receive an offer from Colonel Qaddafi “very soon” that could end the four-month-old war.
Mr. Ghoga, the rebel spokesman, said intermediaries had indicated that a proposal from the Libyan strongman was in the works.
Thousands have died in the fighting, while approximately 650,000 others have fled the country. Another 243,000 Libyans have been displaced internally, according to UN figures.
(Mustapha Ajbaili, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at Mustapha.firstname.lastname@example.org. Sara Ghasemilee, also a senior editor with Al Arabiya English, can be reached at email@example.com)