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Rebels welcome ICC’s arrest warrants for Qaddafi, as explosions rock Tripoli

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Libyan rebels on Monday welcomed a decision by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for Muammar Qaddafi, his son, and his spy chief, but they said he should be tried in Libya first.

The rebels announcement to welcome the ICC’s decision came when three loud explosions rocked the Bab al-Aziziya neighborhood of Tripoli on Monday night, the area where the beleaguered Libyan leader lives, an Agence-France Presse correspondent reported.

The ICC prosecutor issued arrest warrants on Monday for Colonel Qaddafi, and his son Saif al-Islam for crimes against humanity.

It had been widely expected that ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo would seek an arrest warrant for Colonel Qaddafi and his son Mr. Saif, but the prosecutor said he would also seek the arrest of Libya’s head of espionage, Abdullah al-Senussi.

Despite the arrest warrants, however, it appears unlikely that the prosecutor would be able to serve the warrants while Colonel Qaddafi, his son, and his spy chief are still in Libya.

Presumably, such warrants would be served if they go into exile—depending, of course, on where they live in exile. Mr. Qaddafi has ruled out any form of exile, and not too many countries appear eager to welcome him: so far, only Zimbabwe, home to defrocked dictators such as Ethiopian Marxist Haile Mariam Mengistu, has informally indicated that Colonel Qaddafi could seek refuge in that southern African country.

“The office gathered direct evidence about orders issued by Muammar Gaddafi himself, direct evidence of Saif al-Islam organizing the recruitment of mercenaries and direct evidence of the participation of al-Senussi in the attacks against demonstrators,” Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said at the ICC.

The latest development, which came amid stepped-up UN efforts to achieve a diplomatic settlement in Libya to end the fighting there, shows how complicated the situation has become. The UN’s move seemed overridden by calls on Monday by Britain’s most senior military officer for expanding NATO airstrikes on the country or risk failing to remove Colonel Qaddafi from power.

“If we do not up the ante now, there is a risk that the conflict could result in Qaddafi clinging to power,” General David Richards, Chief of the Defense Staff of the United Kingdom, said in a newspaper interview. “At present, NATO is not attacking infrastructure targets in Libya. But if we want to increase the pressure on Qaddafi’s regime then we need to give serious consideration to increasing the range of targets we can hit.”

In another related development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that representatives of Mr. Qaddafi’s government were expected in Moscow on Tuesday, and that Russia also hoped to host Libyan rebel envoys soon, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

“We agreed meetings in Moscow with representatives of both Tripoli and Benghazi. Envoys from Tripoli will be here tomorrow. Envoys from Benghazi were supposed to be here on Wednesday, but as they informed us, they were forced to ask us to postpone this visit for technical reasons,” Mr. Lavrov was quoted as saying. “We hope it will take place in the foreseeable future.”

Libya and Russia have long had close relations, and speculation mounted late Monday that, by interjecting itself conspicuously at this stage, Moscow was trying to bring about a resolution to the Libya crisis. There was also speculation that Russia might offer exile to Mr. Qaddafi and his family.

Meanwhile, Abdel Elah al-Khatib, the United Nations secretary general’s Special Envoy for Libya, flew to Libya and met with the foreign minister, the prime minister, the secretary general of the Libyan Public Congress and the pro-Qaddafi tribal forum.

Libya’s official media said Colonel Qaddafi’s regime offered a truce in return for an immediate NATO ceasefire during the talks with Mr. Khatib. Mr. Qaddafi has offered such truces many times before, but has continued a relentless campaign to destroy opponents.

Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi, quoted by JANA state news agency, said after meeting Mr. Khatib that Libya wants “an immediate ceasefire to coincide with a stop to the NATO bombardment and the acceptance of international observers.”

Regime officials told Mr. Khatib they were “open and ready to fully engage,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said. No mention was made of a Libyan offer of a ceasefire in the conflict in which more than 1,000 people are now said to have died.

“Their discussions focused on the need to fully implement Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, to allow full humanitarian access, and to establish a ceasefire and political process,” according to information released by a spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“The Special Envoy’s interlocutors said they were open and ready to fully engage and to cooperate with his efforts,” Mr. Ban’s spokesman said.

NATO warplanes, acting under a UN mandate to protect civilians, have stopped government troops advancing on rebel strongholds but the collapse of Colonel Qaddafi’s rule, which many Western governments seek, has not materialized.

After a series of air strikes on his Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, Colonel Qaddafi taunted the Western military alliance, saying in an audio recording aired on Friday that he was in a place where NATO could not reach him.

A spokesman for the Libyan government said that NATO had already gone beyond its mandate from the United Nations to protect civilians.

Three months after a revolt began against Colonel Qaddafi’s four-decade rule, fighting between rebels and government forces on several fronts has come to a near-standstill and Mr. Qaddafi is refusing to bow to efforts to force him from power.

(Dina Al-Shibeeb, an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: dina.ibrahim@mbc.net. Mustapha Ajbaili, also an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: Mustapha.ajbaili@mbc.net)