TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya urged Niger on Saturday to extradite Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi, saying his call for Libyans to prepare for a “coming uprising” threatened bilateral ties.
Niger responded that it could not hand over Saadi, who fled south to the West African state in September as Libyan forces gain the upper hand over his father’s forces, because he would face execution in Libya.
But officials in Libya and Niger told Reuters that the Niger authorities had placed tighter restrictions on Saadi’s movements and agreed that the Libyan foreign minister, Ashour Bin Hayal, would meet his Niger counterpart to discuss the issue.
In a telephone call to Al Arabiya television late on Friday, Saadi said that he was in regular contact with people in Libya who were unhappy with the authorities put in place after the ousting and killing of his father.
“The council demands that the Niger government extradite Saadi and those who are with him to the Libyan authorities as soon as possible to maintain the relationship with the Libyan people,” National Transitional Council spokesman Mohammed al-Harizy said, reading out a statement to reporters.
“They should follow the Algerian government which prevented Gaddafi’s daughter from making statements or causing any trouble from their land,” he said, adding that NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil had called Niger’s president to discuss Saadi.
Algeria ordered members of Gaddafi’s family in exile on its territory to stay out of politics, after Gaddafi’s daughter Aisha angered the Libyan government last year by telling the media her father was still fighting to hold onto power.
The Libyan News Agency LANA said Niger’s Foreign Minister Bazoum Mohamed and his Libyan counterpart Bin Hayal had spoken by phone, and quoted Bin Hayal as saying Saadi’s comments “threaten the bilateral relationship between the two countries.”
Authorities in Niger signaled that their position on any future extradition of Saadi had not changed.
“We will hand over Saadi Gaddafi to a government which has an independent and impartial justice system,” government spokesman Marou Amadou told a news conference.
“But we cannot hand over someone to a place where he could face the death penalty or where he is not likely to have a trial worthy of the name,” he added.
Amadou acknowledged that Saadi’s comments violated a condition of his stay in Niger not to engage in subversion against the Libyan authorities.
Police sources in Niger told Reuters that supervision of Saadi’s residence in the capital Niamey had been stepped up, but that he had not been formally arrested.
A Libyan security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: “Niger informed us that he (Saadi) will stay in his residence and will not move from the house where he lives.”
Nick Kaufman, a lawyer who represents Saadi Gaddafi, told Reuters all he could say was that he has been unable to contact his client, despite many attempts. “His telephone would appear to be disconnected,” said Kaufman.
The Libyan security source said it had been agreed that the new restrictions would be kept in place until foreign minister Ben Hayal meets Niger officials for talks about Saadi Gaddafi’s status.
In his televised phone call, Saadi said he was in contact from Niger with the Libyan army, militias, the NTC and other members of the Gaddafi family.
“The National Council confirms that there was not and there will not be any communication or negotiation with Saadi or anyone from the former regime,” said Harizy, the NTC spokesman.
“We assure the Libyan people that neither Saadi nor anyone else can raise the Gaddafi flag on Libyan soil ... Let Saadi know and whoever is standing behind him that the February 17 revolutionaries have not put down their weapons yet and they are ready to face any foolish attempt with force.”
About 30 protesters demonstrated outside Niger’s embassy in Tripoli, with some spraying graffiti that read “Cut ties now” and “Close the embassy” on its walls.
Interpol last year issued a “red notice” requesting member states to arrest Saadi with a view to extradition if they find him on their territory. Niger has cited other reasons for not extraditing Saadi, including a United Nations travel ban on him.
It has pledged to comply with commitments to the Hague-based International Criminal Court, which has not indicted Saadi, who before the war was best known for his soccer obsession.
The ICC has indicted Saadi’s brother Saif al-Islam for crimes against humanity. Saif al-Islam, once viewed as a likely successor to his father, is held by a militia in Libya, where he awaits trial on rape and murder charges.
In an interview broadcast by France 24 on Saturday but recorded before Saadi’s interview was aired, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said Niger would study any extradition request on strict legal merits.
“If we receive an official request we will study it. We are a state based on the rule of law. We will study that question according to our laws and our international commitments,” Issoufou told France 24.
The Libyan conflict has created new problems for the fragile region to its south. Heavily armed former fighters from Gaddafi’s army have joined a new rebellion in northern Mali that has forced tens of thousands to flee from their homes.
Additional reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaatchi in Niamey, Mark John in Dakar, Cairo bureau and Ali Shuaib in Tripoli; Writing by Mark John, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Christian Lowe; Editing by Myra MacDonald