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Libya frees detained ICC staff

Latest update : 03/07/2012

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Article text by News Wires

The four ICC envoys released by Libyan authorities yesterday arrived Tuesday in the Netherlands. They were freed yesterday after their detention in June over an alleged breach of national security while visiting Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam.

AFP - Four envoys of the International Criminal Court who were detained in Libya last month after visiting the son of slain leader Moamer Gaddafi arrived Tuesday in the Netherlands, an ICC spokesman said.

But their ordeal may not be over just yet, as the four have been summoned to a Libyan court later this month to complete the judicial process set in motion by the Libyan prosecutor general's investigations against them.

ICC spokesman Fadi El-Abdallah early Tuesday told AFP the four had "just arrived in the Netherlands," where they work at the Hague-based ICC.

He declined to name the airport where their plane touched down just before 1:00 am (2300 GMT Monday) adding the four would be reunited with their families shortly afterwards.

"They will then go home to The Hague to get some rest," Abdallah added.

The four earlier Monday flew to Rome "on a plane generously provided by the Italian government," and changed to a charter flight, he said.

Italian news agency ANSA reported that the plane was headed to Rotterdam airport from a Rome military airport.

The four, including Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor, had been held in Zintan southwest of Tripoli since June 7 after travelling there to help prepare Seif al-Islam's defence.

Taylor was accused of carrying a pen camera and attempting to give Seif al-Islam, 40, a coded letter from his former right-hand man, Mohammed Ismail, who is wanted by the Libyan authorities.

The other three detained ICC staffers were Taylor's interpreter from Lebanon, Helen Assaf, and two colleagues, Russian Alexander Khodakov and Esteban Peralta Losilla from Spain.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz said the ICC envoys were allowed to leave the North African country as part of an agreement his government had reached with The Hague-based court.

An Italian military jet with ICC president Sang-Hyung Song had arrived earlier Monday in Libya and flew the ICC delegates out of Tripoli's Metiga military airport at 1830 GMT, officials told AFP.

Song thanked the Libyan authorities for mediating the release of the legal team at a news conference.

"The ICC is grateful to the Libyan authorities for making the necessary arrangements to allow the release of the ICC members," Song said.

"I wish to apologise for the difficulties which arose due to these events," he added.

"There will be an investigation following the return of (the ICC) members to The Hague. Any member found with any misconduct will face appropriate sanction," he said.

The four ICC defense office members also still face a Libyan court on July 23 to complete a judicial process set in motion by the Libyan prosecutor general's investigation, Abdel Aziz said.

Any verdict would be transferred by the ICC for follow-up, he said, adding: "The ICC has agreed to keep Libyan authorities informed on the results of its investigations."

It was unclear whether they would have to return to Libya for the case or be tried in absentia.

Libyan officials have said that the actions of the ICC team represented a "breach of national security," a matter Tripoli did not take lightly, despite its declared commitment to cooperate with the court.

Meanwhile, NGOs and rights groups have welcomed the four's release, but added the incident was "troubling".

"The Coalition welcomes the release of the four ICC staff members and we express our relief that this was achieved in a safe manner," Leila Hanafi, North Africa regional coordinator for the Coalition for the ICC, said in a statement.

"However, that this situation arose at all is extremely troubling," Hanafi said, adding the ICC was mandated to investigate grave crimes, including in states like Libya, which was referred to the court by the UN Security Council.

Amnesty International's global justice research, policy and campaign manager Marek Marczynski said: "Not only has it (the detention) denied (the ICC staff members) their liberty and stopped them from performing their functions, but it has also undermined Seif al-Islam's right to an effective defence."

Melinda Taylor's mother said Tuesday in her first call with her daughter since her release, the international lawyer did not go into the details of her detention but was excited to be heading back to her family.

"She sounded good, she sounded really good, really excited to be going home," Janelle Taylor told ABC Radio. "She just said 'I love you mum and dad. I'm on my way home'."

Mrs Taylor said she would be talking to her daughter again later in the day, once she arrived back at her home in the Netherlands and was reunited with her husband Geoff Roberts and their young daughter, Yasmina.