Niger defies Interpol bid and grants Gaddafi's son asylum
Published 12/11/2011 | 05:00
Niger has risked the wrath of the new authorities in neighbouring Libya by granting asylum to Muammar Gaddafi's third son in defiance of an Interpol request for his extradition.
Saadi Gaddafi, a bisexual playboy, was granted asylum on "humanitarian" grounds, the Niger president said, adding that it was unlikely he would ever be extradited.
Gaddafi, who crossed into Niger in the last weeks of his father's regime, has been under house arrest in a state guest house in the capital, Niamey. Libya's new leaders made the 38-year-old the subject of an Interpol red notice.
Tripoli alleges he misappropriated property and engaged in "armed intimidation" when he headed the Libyan Football Federation. He also led his own militia and was accused of directing fire on civilians during the early stages of the uprising that ultimately led to the fall of his father's 42-year regime.
Mahamadou Issoufou, Niger's president, said Gaddafi, three generals and three other Libyans who accompanied him across the border were being treated as refugees.
"We have agreed on granting asylum on Saadi Gaddafi for humanitarian reasons," he told a news conference at the end of a two-day visit to South Africa. "But we have clearly indicated that they should not engage in political or subversive activities."
However, he said there was no firm indication that Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's heir and the most wanted of his surviving family, had also fled to Niger.
Mr Issoufou refused to guarantee he would be turned over to the International Criminal Court, to which Niger is a signatory, if he did arrive in the country. "Saif al-Islam is not in Niger so I will reply when and if the issue arises," he said.
A source close to the president later ruled out any possibility of extraditing either Saif al-Islam or Saadi back to Libya. "We are a democracy and we have seen how Gaddafi and his son were murdered. It would not be safe to send any members of the family there."
He declined to speculate on whether Saif would be handed over to the International Criminal Court. A South African diplomat said that as a principal beneficiary of Gaddafi's largesse, Niger could not risk antagonising the large following the regime enjoyed among its own citizens.
"Given how Gaddafi was executed, it's inevitably going to generate sympathy for his family," he said.
Concerns about the safety of members of the regime returned to Tripoli were shared across Africa. "Can you expect a person to get a fair trial in Libya at this moment in time?" the diplomat asked.
Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya said the country's efforts to re-establishment its judiciary were "only a matter of time".
He said Gaddafi's presence in Niger would be deeply unsettling for Libyans. "I doubt whether Libya in its new guise would be relaxed about Saadi having asylum in a neighbouring country," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)