Prosecutor sees Gaddafi endgame, China cautious

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said on Tuesday it could be "game over" within months for Muammar Gaddafi, but China reacted cautiously to the issuing of an arrest warrant for the Libyan leader on charges of crimes against humanity.

"Today, it is time for arrests," ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told reporters in The Hague, a day after the ICC approved warrants for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.

"It is a matter of time ... Gaddafi will face charges. The arrest warrants are not going away."

He added: "I don't think we will have to wait for long...In two or three months it is game over."

Prosecutors allege the three men were involved in the killing of civilian protesters who rose up in February against Gaddafi's 41-year rule. Rebels have pushed to within 80 km (50 miles) of the capital Tripoli.

China stopped short of condemning or endorsing the court's action. "China hopes the ICC can prudently, justly and objectively carry out its duties, and ensure that its relevant work genuinely aids regional peace and stability," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said when asked about the warrants.

China has denounced the ICC's war crimes indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is currently on a state visit in Beijing. He and Gaddafi are the only sitting heads of state facing warrants from the court.

Beijing generally avoids entangling itself in the domestic affairs of other nations and has been skeptical about the NATO military operation to shore up rebels fighting Gaddafi.

But Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Libyan rebel leaders last week that they had become an "important domestic political force" in the country.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the ICC arrest warrants demonstrated why NATO -- which has been riven by disputes over a costly operation that has dragged on longer than some foresaw -- must continue until it fulfils its U.N. mandate.

"The arrest warrants are yet another signal from the international community to the Gaddafi regime: 'Your place is on trial, not in power in Tripoli'," she told a press briefing. But she added it was not up to NATO to enforce the warrant.

Bulgaria and Croatia added their names on Tuesday to the list of now 21 countries who have recognized the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), based in Benghazi in east Libya, as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Anti-Gaddafi rebels based in the Western Mountains region southwest of Tripoli made their biggest breakthrough in weeks on Sunday to reach the town of Bir al-Ghanam, where they are now fighting pro-Gaddafi forces for control, their spokesman said.

The move took them 30 km (18 miles) north of their previous position and closer to Tripoli, Gaddafi's main power base.

A rebel spokesman said there had been further fighting on Monday. "Fighting broke out yesterday evening in Bir Ayad and Bir al-Ghanem. The (government) brigades used Grad rockets. The fighting stopped later after strikes by NATO," he said.

"The brigades bombarded Nalut last night... The humanitarian situation is still the same. We are without electricity and water."

A rebel spokesman in Misrata said Gaddafi's forces struck at the Mediterranean coastal city some 200 km (125 miles) east of Tripoli overnight.

"Gaddafi's forces bombarded Misrata last night. There were no casualties, thank God. Today the situation is quiet for the moment," said the spokesman, who gave his name as Youssef.

The revolt has turned into the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic rulers across the Middle East, turning into a civil war as rebels backed by Western and Arab countries took control of eastern Libya.

In the district of Nalut by the Tunisian border, rebels said on Monday that power and water infrastructure had been hit by pro-Gaddafi bombing.

"There is a crisis here," a spokesman, identified as Mohammed, said. "We are without electricity after the brigades hit high-voltage electricity posts ... and the power problem affected water supplies."

At the NATO briefing, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard acknowledged what he called "indiscriminate shelling" by Gaddafi forces in Nalut and Misrata and said Tripoli maintains a significant-sized force in the Brega area.

He said the situation in Tripoli remained tense after the government "severely put down" anti-Gaddafi protests.

"This continues... We have continued reports that casualties are being taken, and that security forces continue to inflict pain and harm on the population," he said.

Arrest Warrants

The ICC warrant is unlikely to lead to Gaddafi's arrest as long he remains in power and inside Libya, because the court does not have the power to enforce such orders.

"Libya ... does not accept the decisions of the ICC, which is a tool of the Western world to prosecute leaders in the Third World," Justice Minister Mohammed al-Qamoodi said.

The Libyan administration has denied targeting civilians, saying it has taken justified military action against armed criminal gangs and al Qaeda militants.

Celebrations erupted in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, in eastern Libya, after the ICC's decision. Insurgent officials said the move meant negotiations with Gaddafi were impossible.

"After this warrant, it is all irrelevant. We cannot negotiate with war criminals," NTC spokesman Jalal al-Galal, told Reuters.

The ICC's action also was welcomed by NATO, which has shown signs of friction between member states as the war in Libya has dragged on without an apparent end in sight.

Some military officials within NATO have been warning for weeks that alliance resources are being stretched thin by a bombing campaign that has so far failed to dislodge Gaddafi.

[Source: By Nick Carey and Aaron Gray-Block, Reuters, Tripoli and Amsterdam, 28Jun11]

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