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ICC CONTACTS GADDAFI'S SON AS NATO ENDS LIBYA MISSION SOON

By NBF News
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BRUSSELS (AFP) - NATO decided Friday to end its mission in Libya on October 31, declaring it fulfilled its 'historic mandate' to protect civilians as contact was made with Moammar Gaddafi's fugitive son.

Alliance warplanes will wind up the mission on Monday after flying more than 26,000 sorties and bombing almost 6,000 targets in a seven-month operation that helped a ragtag rebel force oust colonel Gaddafi.

'We have fully complied with the historic mandate of the United Nations to protect the people of Libya, to enforce the no-fly zone and the arms embargo,' NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

'Operation Unified Protector is one of the most successful in NATO history,' he said after NATO ambassadors formally agreed to end it. 'We are concluding it in a considered and controlled manner - because our military job is now done.'

The conflict ended in controversial fashion when Gaddafi was shot dead on October 20, a killing that was criticised even by Western allies of the interim regime, the National Transitional Council.

While saying Libyans 'liberated their country' and 'transformed the region,' Rasmussen added 'they still have a lot of work to do - to build a new Libya, based on reconciliation, human rights and the rule of law. A democratic Libya for all its people.'

Facing global criticism over Gaddafi's death, the NTC vowed on Thursday to bring Gaddafi killers to justice in a sharp break with their previous insistence he was caught in the crossfire with his own loyalists.

'We had issued a statement saying that any violations of human rights will be investigated by the NTC. Whoever is responsible for that (Gaddafi's killing) will be judged and given a fair trial,' said NTC vice chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, adding that he was certain it was an 'individual act.'

While NATO has steadfastly denied targeting Gaddafi's during the campaign, it was an alliance air strike that hit his convoy as it fled Sirte, leading to his capture and killing.

Gaddafi's son and heir-apparent, Seif al-Islam, remains on the run but the International Criminal Court said it was in 'informal contact' with him through intermediaries.

'The Office of the Prosecutor has made it clear that if he surrenders to the ICC, he has the right to be heard in court, he is innocent until proven guilty,' said ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Seif al-Islam, 39, and Gaddafi's security chief and brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi, 62, are wanted on charges of crimes against humanity committed during the crackdown against the uprising that began in February.

Seif was Tuesday poised to cross into Niger along with Senussi, his father's ex-intelligence chief, a Tuareg official said.

NATO decided to end the mission even though interim Libyan leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil asked for the alliance to stay until the end of the year, warning on Wednesday that Gaddafi loyalists still posed a threat.

The alliance had made a preliminary decision last week to end the mission on October 31, deeming that civilians were safe from attacks after the new regime declared the country liberated following Gaddafi's death and the fall of Sirte.

The formal decision on Friday came one day after the UN Security Council unanimously voted to end the mandate that authorised military action in Libya from 11:59 pm Libyan time (2159 GMT) on October 31.

The operation had divided the United Nations, with Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa accusing NATO of breaching the mandate.

Between now and Monday, NATO aircraft will continue to monitor the situation on the ground and, if needed, 'respond to threats to civilians,' Rasmussen said.

Western allies are now looking at how they can assist the new regime in Libya.

Rasmussen repeated an offer for NATO to help the new Libyan leaders reform the country's security sector, but the alliance has repeatedly ruled out sending troops on the ground.

An alliance official said some allies could offer to provide the NTC help in 'air space management' and to control borders, but it would be outside the NATO umbrella.