ICC expresses "regret" over staff held in Libya

AMSTERDAM Fri Jun 22, 2012 6:56pm EDT

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) has expressed regret to Libyan authorities in what seemed to come close to an apology designed to secure the release of four ICC employees detained in the country.

Libyan officials said last week they may consider releasing ICC lawyer Melinda Taylor and three of her colleagues if the court apologized over allegations that she had attempted to carry sensitive documents to Saif al Islam Gaddafi, who is wanted for war crimes.

"The ICC deeply regrets any events that may have given rise to concerns on the part of the Libyan authorities," the court said in a statement issued after a meeting at the court's headquarters in The Hague between Abdelaziz Al-Hassadi, the Libyan attorney general, and Sang-Hyun Song, the court's president.

"The Court will ensure that anyone found responsible for any misconduct will be subject to appropriate sanctions," the statement continued.

Taylor, an Australian citizen, was arrested two weeks ago while trying to visit Saif al-Islam, son of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Libyan officials said Taylor, who is Saif al-Islam's court-appointed defense counsel, had tried to smuggle him letters from his supporters.

A spokesman for the court did not respond to questions over whether this amounted to an apology as demanded by the Libyans. Another court official who declined to be quoted by name also declined to comment on whether this was an apology.

The court earlier said it was "keen to address any regrettable misunderstandings" about its staff's activities in the country.

The court has said Taylor had diplomatic immunity and it would investigate any allegations against its employees itself.

The ICC indicted Saif al-Islam last June for war crimes allegedly committed during the conflict that led to the fall and death of his father Muammur, who ruled Libya with an iron fist for four decades.

Libya has said it will try Saif al-Islam, and has refused to extradite him.

But many question how strongly the writ of the capital Tripoli runs in the western mountain town of Zintan, where Saif al-Islam is being held and where the ICC staff were detained.

A Libyan spokesperson for the prosecutor general's office said they were holding discussions on Friday night regarding the ICC's statement.

Western governments have called on Libya to release Taylor and her three colleagues, who are from Russia, Lebanon and Spain.

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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