TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya's new government is setting up a security agency whose main task would be to root out those who remain loyal to deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi in towns and cities it now controls.
Ahmed al Dharrat, Libya's new interim internal affairs minister, told Reuters the new agency would replace a much-feared security service which ruled the North African nation through fear and arrests throughout Gaddafi's 42 years in power.
"Regarding internal security, there has been an order to abolish it. And we are studying a way of creating a body," al Dharrat said in an interview.
"The mission of this apparatus may be to follow the fifth column of Gaddafi's followers. That would be the sole speciality of this apparatus that will be created."
He did not specify where in the country the search would be focused.
Gaddafi has been on the run since the fall of the Libyan capital Tripoli on August 23. and, despite several leads on his whereabouts, has eluded capture, along with two prominent sons.
The headquarters of Libya's internal security services were overrun by anti-Gaddafi fighters after they swept into Tripoli.
Documents that were sifted through by human rights groups revealed a huge security apparatus that kept a close eye on Libyan society.
Al Dharrat was adamant that the deposed leader no longer posed a major threat to national security, despite two significant pro-Gaddafi towns still resisting the new government, and threats of war from his spokesman.
"He's moving around, but we're sure that he's going from hole to hole," al Dharrat said. "As he said, 'we'll follow you street to street'. We'll track him from hole to hole."
He was referring to a televised speech by Gaddafi earlier in the conflict in which he said he would hunt down the rebels trying to overthrow him from street to street.
The minister said that, if captured in Libya, Gaddafi would be tried there for crimes they say he committed after 2003, which was the year Libya normalized its relations with Western nations and pledged to stop developing nuclear weapons.
"He'll be tried for the crimes from 2003, I believe. He'll be tried internally because the Libyan judiciary will have integrity. He'll get a fair trial," al Dharrat said.
The International Criminal Court, which has issued a warrant for Gaddafi's arrest, could deal with crimes committed before 2003, he added.
Al Dharrat said that Gaddafi was hiding in the south of Libya, close to its borders with Algeria and Niger, both countries where his family members have sought refuge.
RIGHTS ABUSE INVESTIGATION
Responding to allegations from international rights groups, al Dharrat said some ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters had committed abuses themselves during the war.
"There have been human rights abuses," al Dharrat said. "(NTC chairman) Mustafa Abdel Jalil has ordered the creation of a committee to investigate human rights violations."
Al Dharrat said the abuses were not "systematic or ordered by officials" but "individual acts."
The NTC has identified putting Libya's security arms -- including the police -- back together as a massive challenge because of distrust toward them from large sections of Libya's population.
Al Dharrat said the NTC would now have to convince Libyan civilians that the country's police and security services posed no threat to them.
A plan has been mooted to train anti-Gaddafi fighters -- many of whom say took up arms because they had no jobs -- as police officers.
"We have re-started the police to a large extent, maybe not as much as we'd have liked, a hundred percent," al Dharrat said. "But many of the security personnel have returned to their stations. And I believe things are going to get better.
"Whereas previously these agencies were used for the regime's purposes, we will use them to protect citizens and their liberties."
(Editing by Maria Golovnina)