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Australian minister in Libya to seek lawyer's release
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr arrived in Libya on Monday to push for the release of detained International Criminal Court (ICC) staff, including Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor, adding to global pressure on Tripoli over the arrests.
Taylor and Lebanese-born interpreter Helene Assaf were detained in the town of Zintan on June 7 and accused of smuggling documents to Muammar Gaddafi's captured son Saif al-Islam. Two male colleagues travelling with them have remained with Taylor and Assaf.
Carr met Libya's Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib and offered Australia's help as a facilitator between Libya and the court to answer Tripoli's concerns and win their release.
"I made strong representations for the immediate release of the Australian Melinda Taylor," Carr told Reuters.
"But I now have a deeper understanding of Libyan perspectives and concerns with the way the ICC has responded," he said. "It's my goal to see whether we can bring the two sides together in fruitful dialogue. Australia is very happy to facilitate that exchange."
Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz said on Saturday that Libya wanted the ICC's cooperation as it investigates the detained staff.
The court in The Hague has said it is "keen to address any regrettable misunderstandings on either side about the delegation's mandate and activities during its mission in Libya".
Taylor and Assaf were detained for allegedly passing documents to Saif al-Islam from his fugitive right-hand man Mohammed Ismail. Libyan prosecutors have said they want to keep them in detention for 45 days pending investigation of the charges.
Libyan officials, who have often cited the fear of Gaddafi supporters disrupting the country's democratic transition, say the case is a matter of "national security".
The ICC, U.N. Security Council, the head of NATO and rights groups have all called on Libya to release the ICC delegates in what has become the country's biggest diplomatic challenge since last year's uprising which ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule.
Carr said he would discuss the case with the ICC president, Judge Sang-Hyun Song, to ask him "to look at Libyan concerns and Libyan perspectives over the handling of this case."
"The prime minister and deputy foreign minister explained to me some of the difficulties and complexities in this case," Carr said. "Libya has legitimate security fears."
In an earlier statement, Carr said he had raised the issue with Foreign Minister Ashour bin Hayal on the sidelines of non-proliferation talks in Istanbul on Sunday but said he had only "modest" expectations that the two women would be released soon.
Complicating the case is the fact that Zintan, the provincial town where the ICC officials are held, is effectively outside the control of the central government. The town is controlled by a brigade that captured Saif al-Islam in November and has held him since.
Saif al-Islam is wanted by the court for crimes stemming from last year's war but Libya says he should be tried in his home country.
Australia has said the women should have been afforded diplomatic protection while in Libya because they were doing work for the ICC.
Carr said Taylor had been given access to a lawyer sent by the ICC, and an ICC delegation and ambassadors from Australia, Lebanon, Russia and Spain visited the detained staff last week.
(Additional reporting by Ali Shuaib in Tripoli and James Grubel in Canberra; Editing by Ed Lane and Roger Atwood)
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