Uncertainty over handover of former Libyan dictator Gaddafi's son for pre-trial

TRIPOLI (AFP) - The son of slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was due to appear at a pre-trial hearing with more than 30 others in Tripoli on Thursday although doubts remained whether his ex-rebel captors would allow him to attend.

Libya's prosecutor general Abdulqader Radwan said on Wednesday he had ordered Seif al-Islam to be transferred to the Tripoli court from Zintan, 180 kilometres to the southwest.

The former heir apparent to Gaddafi and others including ex-intelligence supremo Abdullah al-Senussi are accused of crimes during the 2011 revolt which toppled Gaddafi.

Baghdadi al-Mahmudi, the last prime minister to serve under Gaddafi, and Mansur Daw, who headed the People's Guard, are also among the accused in one of the most important legal cases in Libyan history.

"We have sent a transfer order to the penal authorities concerned to send those persons implicated in Case Number 630, including Seif al-Islam," the prosecutor general told a news conference.

"So far there have been no obstacles to his transfer."

Talks were reported to be under way late on Wednesday for Seif to be transferred to Tripoli for a period of several hours.

"This will depend mainly on security conditions," said a source close to the case.

The main charges against the suspects include murders committed during the regime's battle against the revolt that erupted in the eastern city of Benghazi in February 2011.

Gaddafi was captured and killed by rebels in his hometown of Sirte in October that year.

His son was captured the following month by a group of former rebels from the mountainous region of Zintan, and has been held there since.

The North African country's interim authorities have tried several times to negotiate the captive's transfer to Tripoli, so far in vain.

However, the authorities insist that Seif al-Islam is in the custody of the state.

Deputy prosecutor general Siddiq al-Sur stressed on Wednesday that all the prisons concerned came under the authority of the justice ministry.

"If the director of any such establishment refuses to obey orders, he will be pursued by the judiciary," Sur told reporters.

However, Seif al-Islam is also due in the dock on Thursday in Zintan itself on charges of undermining state security.

Asked about the coincidence with the court appearance dates on Wednesday, Sur said only that "the prosecutor general's office was not officially informed about the date of the trial" in Zintan.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, urged the "immediate" handover of Seif al-Islam and Senussi to the International Criminal Court.

"The referral of these cases to the Indictment Chamber (in Tripoli) brings us one step closer to the start of national trial proceedings... in violation of Libya's legal obligation to surrender him to the ICC," it said.

"It is understandable that the authorities may want to proceed promptly and try these individuals in Libya. But such trials today will not serve justice.

"Libya's justice system is in desperate need of an overhaul. There are serious concerns about the authorities' ability to ensure fair trials compounded by the precarious security situation in the country."

The whole trial is seen by some Western observers as an act of defiance against the international court.

A total of 40,000 documents and 4,000 pages of interrogation transcripts will be considered by the court which will carry out the hearing at a secret location in the Libyan capital.

The defendants face a string of charges, including the "formation of armed bands to carry out crimes that undermine state security" and "incitation to rape".

Tripoli's court of first instance, purportedly made up of independent judges, has the power under Libyan law to accept or reject the charges, or to request further investigation.

Observers expect the trial itself to last several months.

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