Saif Gaddafi's trial could begin within weeks, says NTC

The trial of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi could begin "within weeks", according to the country's new Interior Minister. The former heir-presumptive in Libya has been held by anti-Gaddafi forces in the western town of Zintan since November when he was captured trying to escape through the desert.

Fawzi Abdelali said yesterday that the trial will begin "within weeks, or months". The trial, which will focus on Saif's role as key member of the previous regime in Libya, could eventually see the former friend of many in the British establishment facing a death sentence. It could coincide with the publication of a report into the circumstances surrounding the death of his father Muammar Gaddafi.

The National Transitional Council maintains that the former dictator was killed in a battle during his capture in his home town of Sirte in October. Video evidence, and the testimonies of those in the group of fighters that captured Gaddafi, suggest that the former dictator was executed by the fighters.

Subsequent footage also appeared to show that Gaddafi suffered what rights groups have described as a "serious sexual assault" in the moments before he died.

Western backers of last year's war are concerned that any trial of Saif al-Islam be seen to be fair and that Nato has not replaced one brutal regime with another. Médecins Sans Frontières and Amnesty International have both recently spoken of human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by groups affiliated to the NTC.

Speaking to CNN yesterday, Mr Abdelali rejected the suggestion that the human rights situation in Libya was deteriorating. There are "not systematic violations as there were under the Gaddafi regime", he said, before admitting that "there may be individuals who take the law into their own hands".

"There is no comparison whatsoever between the situation prevailing under Muammar Gaddafi and the situation now," he added.

When it visited Saif in custody last year, Human Rights Watch said that he had no access to a lawyer. Mr Abdelali said that a lawyer would be appointed if required: "Should Saif demand a lawyer, then a lawyer would be provided."

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