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ICC rejects Libya's request over Gaddafi son surrender

AMSTERDAM/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday ordered Libya to immediately hand over for trial Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late Libyan leader, but Libya's new authorities said they still wanted to try him themselves.

The court in The Hague ordered Tripoli to "comply with its obligations to enforce the warrant of arrest" and surrender him into the court's custody without delay, rejecting a Libyan request to delay the handover.

The ICC says it has jurisdiction in the case and that a U.N. Security Council Resolution obliges Libya to cooperate. It has warned that Tripoli's failure to hand Saif al-Islam over could result in it being reported to the Council.

Along with human rights organisations, it harbours concerns about the fairness of Libya's new justice system.

Since the elder Gaddafi was killed after being captured alive by rebel fighters, competing militias have yet to lay down their arms and Western human rights organisations have accused them of carrying out numerous extra-judicial executions and other abuses, raising serious questions about the rule of law.

The ICC issued a warrant for Saif al-Islam in June last year, after prosecutors accused him and others of involvement in the killing of protesters during the revolt that eventually toppled and killed his father, Muammar Gaddafi, in August.

But Libya says Gaddafi's British-educated son should face justice at home. He was caught last year disguised as a Bedouin tribesman in the Sahara desert, months after telling his father's opponents they would be exterminated like rats.

He faces the death penalty if found guilty by a Libyan court, but only a prison term if convicted by the ICC.

LIBYA POSITION UNCHANGED

In the Libyan capital Tripoli, a spokesman for the government which took over after Muammar Gaddafi's fall did not comment directly on the ICC decision but said the plan to try Saif al-Islam inside Libya remained unchanged.

"The justice ministry announces that the central prison preparations have been completed. They are ready for the trial of Saif al-Islam and it will be soon," the spokesman, Nasser al-Manee, told a news conference.

As soon as construction work on a special prison in Tripoli is completed, Libyan authorities say Saif al-Islam will be moved there and that his trial will start.

Up until now he has been held in the western Libyan town of Zintan by the militia that captured him.

The ICC also says it has jurisdiction over the case because it formally issued warrants last year for the arrest of Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, and the Libyan leader's intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, who was arrested last month in Mauritania.

Saif al-Islam's supporters say they doubt he will be given a fair trial in Libya and would prefer him to be tried by the ICC.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also believes Saif al-Islam would receive a fairer and safer trial in the Netherlands.

"Today's decision means that ... the authorities (in Libya)must start making arrangements to surrender Saif al-Islam to the court," said Richard Dicker, HRW's international justice program director.

The ICC had earlier given Libya until January 10 to confirm whether and when it would surrender Saif al-Islam and to provide information about his health. It extended the deadline until February.

(Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Andrew Osborn)