TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz said on Saturday Libya wanted the International Criminal Court’s cooperation as it investigates detained ICC staff accused of smuggling documents to Muammar Gaddafi’s captured son.
Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor and Lebanese-born interpreter Helene Assaf were detained on June 7 while visiting Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in the town of Zintan, for allegedly giving him documents from his supporters.
Two male colleagues travelling with them have stayed with them out of “solidarity”, Libyan officials have said.
In what is emerging as Libya’s biggest diplomatic row since last year’s uprising ended Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, the U.N Security Council, human rights groups, the court in The Hague, and Australian government have all called for their release.
Libyan prosecutors say the women will be held for 45 days while they are investigated.
“We are fully committed to solving this problem speedily but what we need is the cooperation of the International Criminal Court,” Abdel Aziz told Reuters in an interview.
“We will be more than happy to even have a joint investigation ... They have not given us anything at this particular moment and we are very much waiting for them to come forward with some possible scenarios on how to solve this problem.”
The ICC 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”.
It says Saif al-Islam was entitled to have adequate time and facilities to prepare his defense and to communicate freely and in confidence with his lawyer and that such communication “may include discussing and exchanging documents and discussing potential witnesses and defense positions in the case”.
Abdel Aziz said an ICC team, including a lawyer believed to be British, was on its way to Zintan on Saturday. He said Taylor had declined to answer questions without an international lawyer present.
“Today we have organized another visit to Zintan for the ICC team, particularly for the defense lawyer to have a meeting with the representative from the attorney general who is there undertaking the investigation,” he said.
“We are hoping that the investigation will be initiated and all parties will cooperate accordingly.”
Libyan officials said that during their meeting, Taylor was caught passing letters to Saif al-Islam from his fugitive right-hand man Mohammed Ismail, and that she and Assaf were found to be carrying “spying and recording” equipment.
“It seems the content of that letter touches directly on the national security of Libya,” Abdel Aziz said, adding it was too early to disclose the content. “What is important is to what extent she cooperates as far as the investigation is concerned.”
International pressure is mounting on Libya to release the ICC staff. On Friday the U.N. Security Council expressed “serious concern over the detention”.
“I would say the international community should be fair to Libya,” Abdel Aziz said. “You cannot continue to always push Libya to do this, to do that. There is the other side of the coin that has to be addressed too.”
An ICC delegation and ambassadors from Australia, Lebanon, Russia and Spain last week visited the detained staff. The court said on Friday the four staff members had indicated that they were in good health and were being treated well.
“They are alone in a small building. They are guarded, the services are provided for them and the treatment is of the standard of what is expected,” Abdel Aziz said.
“It is a matter of waiting for the investigation to start.”
Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; editing by Andrew Roche