International Criminal Court staff freed from Libyan prison after painstaking international negotiations



Four staff members of the International Criminal Court (ICC), who had come on an official visit to meet Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Libya’s most famous prisoner, and had ended up in jail themselves, were finally freed today after painstaking international negotiations.

Days ahead of  the country’s first elections for half-century, the release took place after senior government ministers, foreign ambassadors and the ICC president had driven down to Zintan in a convoy to pay homage to this medium sized town for its “leading role in the revolution”, the “upholding of democratic values” and “matchless sacrifice”.

It was after the ICC president Sang-Hyun Song had apologized profusely for any misdemeanours by his staff, making seven references to the achievements of Zintan, which he found “overwhelming”, that Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor and her three colleagues were freed.

Reiterating their generosity, the men who run Zintan laid on a celebration lunch for the freed prisoners and VIP delegation, to which, to show their openness, some members of the foreign media were invited.

Ms Taylor said she was “very happy” to be able to return to her family. The proceedings on a hot and dusty afternoon also reinforced, however, the image of power the Republic of Zintan has projected since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

Ms Taylor had been guilty of trying to smuggle incriminating documents and a camera to Saif al-Islam, according to Alejmi Al-Atari, the militia chief who captured him. Commander Al-Atari also stressed later that the fallen dictator’s son will not be transferred to the government in Tripoli, let alone the ICC in The Hague. “He will be tried here, in Zintan for crimes, for all his oppression. Zintan can take care of justice for the Libyan people.”

Until recently, the Zintan battalions, which have more than 15,000 men under arms, “took care” of the capital’s airport, which is steadily opening up to foreign and domestic flights and becoming the main transport hub of the country. It is nominally now under the control of the Tripoli administration, but the Zintani presence is still very much there to see.

The Zintanis had become “protectors” of the capital after proclaiming themselves to be the liberators of city. This was a claim hotly disputed by fighters from Misrata, Benghazi, as well as the Sons of Tripoli brigade. It had also led to a series of blood clashes on the streets leaving dozens dead and sowing deep animosity between the various groups of former revolutionary fighters.

Tripoli itself is relatively peaceful now with Zintan distracted by another conflict, this time with Al-Mashashiyah, a neighbouring community, in which around 120 have been killed and more than 500 injured so far.

Anti-aircraft artillery has used as a ground weapon, rocket propelled grenades and heavy machine guns have been in action in the fighting. The Libyan Human Rights Observatory has accused the Zintanis of using mustard gas, although there is little evidence to support this.

Omar Buseifi, a doctor who heads the emergency unit of the hospital at Gheryan, a town at the scene of the clashes stated that he had personally dealt with documenting around 80 deaths, most of them from the Mashashia community. He said: “There were lots of wounded people as well many of them serious, mainly men, but also some women and children as well. The fighting has calmed down a bit, but we don’t know when it will start again.”

The lull is partly due to the arrival of a force sent down from Tripoli with the head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Abderrahim al-Keib, demanding both parties stop “the killing of innocent people and making families homeless.”

But it took more than a week for the administration to send the troops. NTC spokesman Nasser al-Manaa said: “It was difficult for the army to intervene directly at the beginning out of fear of provoking further casualties.”

There is a general perception that the NTC does not “want to mess” with the Zintani fighters who are well equipped after helping themselves to heavy weaponry from the regime’s abandoned arms caches.

That certainly is the view of Abdelmohammed Ibadullah, a Mashashia elder. “The people in Tripoli are scared of Zintan… it is only two hours drive away from Tripoli and they don’t want to make them angry. In the meantime, it is we who are suffering.”

With five days to go before the first polls of ‘Free Libya’, the NTC is at pains to avoid confrontations in an already tense situation with repeated outbreaks of violence in the south, west and east of the country.

In one of the most serious eruptions, on Sunday evening, hundreds of protestors, many of them armed, sacked the offices of the election commission in Benghazi and Tobruk. Activists in the two eastern cities, where the Libyan uprising had started last year, are angry at what they see as unfair distribution of seats for the election.

The demonstrators carried banners condemning NTC leaders from the east of being traitors to the region. Computers, ballot boxes and electoral rolls were burnt in the streets with footage disseminated through the Internet.

Benghazi has also seen the appearance of gunmen in cars flying the black flag of al-Qa’ida, the bombing of the city’s US consulate and an ambush of a convoy transporting the British ambassador Dominic Asquith, in which protection officers were injured.

One man sees trouble ahead unless stronger figures take charge. “The government needs to work on building security first before working on elections. I will be boycotting what they call this election and so will many others,” said Mokhtar Lakhdar, who was, until two months ago, busy working on security at the airport, for the Zintan Brigade.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'