TRIPOLI // Muammar Qaddafi's son and one-time heir apparent Saif Al Islam was in contact through intermediaries about surrendering for trial, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said yesterday.
But it also had information mercenaries were trying to spirit him to a friendly African nation.
The court has warned the 39-year-old, apparently anxious not to be captured by Libyan interim government forces in whose hands his father was killed more than a week ago, it could order a mid-air interception if he tried to flee by plane from his Sahara desert hideout.
The ICC's comments offered some corroboration of reports from Tripoli's new National Transitional Council (NTC) leaders and African neighbours that he has taken refuge with Tuareg nomads in the borderlands between Libya and Niger. "There are some people connected with him that are in touch with people connected with us ... it's through intermediaries," the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said in an interview.
"We have some information that there is a mercenary group trying to help him to move to a different country, so we are trying to prevent this activity. We are also working with some states to see if we can disrupt this attempt. Some of them are South Africans, allegedly."
Mr Moreno-Ocampo said the ICC was not making any deal with Saif Al Islam but was explaining through the contacts he had to face trial because he had been indicted for war crimes.
"He says he is innocent," said the prosecutor.
NTC officials had said earlier monitoring of satellite calls and other intelligence indicated Saif Al Islam was considering surrendering to the court and trying to arrange an aircraft to get him there and out of reach of NTC fighters.
But surrender is only one option. The Qaddafis made friends with desert tribes in Niger, Mali and other poor former French colonies in West Africa, as well as farther afield in countries such as Zimbabwe and Sudan.
France, a key backer of February's revolt, reminded African states of their obligations to hand over the two surviving Libyans indicted by the ICC - the former intelligence chief Abdullah Al Senussi and Saif Al Islam. "We don't care whether he [Saif Al Islam] goes on foot, by plane, by boat, by car or on a camel, the only thing that matters is that he belongs in the ICC," said the French foreign ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero.