The International Criminal Court prosecutor appeared to get no concrete commitment Monday from Libyan rebels to swiftly hand over Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of Moammar Gadhafi who is charged together with his father with crimes against humanity.
Rebels captured Seif Gadhafi on Sunday during their lightning charge into the capital, Tripoli. Moammar Gadhafi's whereabouts remained a mystery Monday even as rebels took control of large areas of the city.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court's prosecutor, said rebels told him their first priority is to stabilize security in the country in the aftermath of their stunning advance and to prevent further attacks on civilians.
"Of course we agree it's a priority to stabilize Tripoli, to control the situation, to provide security for all the people in Libya," Moreno-Ocampo told reporters in The Hague. "That's the priority. We have time to discuss the legal aspects."
The statement appeared to dash hopes that Seif Gadhafi could be swiftly sent to The Hague to face justice and to raise the prospect of rebels trying to prosecute the Gadhafis for crimes.
Moreno-Ocampo said many in Libya want Moammar Gadhafi prosecuted for crimes committed during his 42-year dictatorship. However, the international court can only investigate crimes after late February this year, when the United Nations Security Council called for it to probe atrocities being committed during Gadhafi's ruthless crackdown on dissent.
The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants in June for Gadhafi and Seif, the son he long groomed to succeed him, along with intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi, saying they plotted a "state policy" to stamp out dissent "by any means _ including by the use of lethal force."
Rebels have in the past said they would hand over Gadhafi, but also that they may want to prosecute him, casting doubt on whether they would immediately hand him over for a trial by the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.
"Further conversations will define the precise way to move forward," Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement.
He said the discussions would focus on arresting and surrendering the three to the court, but also the possibility to "to investigate and prosecute them in Libya for crimes committed previously."
He did not elaborate on what a Libyan prosecution could mean for his case.
"Of course nothing precludes Libyan authorities to conduct general national investigations there and they can do that against these individuals or all others who committed the crimes," he told a small group of reporters.
Rebels have previously pledged to hand over indicted suspects they capture.
Human Rights Watch called on the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) and the remaining pockets of Gadhafi support to protect civilians and those still backing Gadhafi in what appeared to be the last throes of his 42-year rule.
"NTC forces should not carry out reprisals against those who fought for or supported the Gadhafi government," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Moreno-Ocampo says he has evidence of Gadhafi issuing orders and of his son organizing the recruitment of mercenaries to fight for the regime.
Moreno-Ocampo required U.N. approval for his investigation because Libya does not recognize the court's jurisdiction and has not ratified its founding treaty.
After arrest warrants were issued, Libyan Justice Minister Mohammed al-Qamudi dismissed the court as a front for NATO. "It's merely a political tool for exerting pressure and political blackmail against sovereign countries," he said.
Moammar Gadhafi is only the second head of state indicted by the court after Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with genocide for allegedly masterminding widespread attacks on civilians in the Darfur region. Al-Bashir has refused to accept the court's jurisdiction and remains at large.