NATO chief calls for Libya to release ICC detainees

CANBERRA Thu Jun 14, 2012 4:02am EDT

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - NATO on Thursday joined international calls for Libya to release delegates from the International Criminal Court (ICC) detained in Zintan on allegations they had smuggled documents to the son of toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The ICC delegation, led by Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor and Lebanese-born translator Helene Assaf, were detained last week along with two male colleagues while visiting Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in Zintan, southwest of Tripoli.

NATO forces mounted an air campaign in Libya last year in what the Alliance said was a drive to protect civilians during the violent revolt that overthrew and killed Gaddafi.

In Canberra, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he hoped the ICC delegates would be released as soon as possible.

"I strongly regret that certain groups in Libya have arrest or withheld representatives of the International Criminal Court. I would urge them to release these individuals as soon as possible," he told reporters.

Human rights groups, the ICC in The Hague, and Australia's government have all demanded the delegation be released, saying they should have diplomatic protection while doing work for the ICC.

But those holding the ICC group are outside the control of the central government in Tripoli and want to hold the ICC members for at least 45 days while they are investigated for allegedly passing letters to Saif al-Islam from his fugitive right-hand man, Mohammed Ismail.

Taylor's parents, John and Janelle Taylor, told Australian television their daughter always had a strong interest in human rights. She has worked for the ICC for nine years and had come under fire while working in Kosovo.

"All we want is the process of law to go ahead and for Melinda to be released as quickly as possible," Janelle Taylor said.

(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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