The International Criminal Court is in indirect negotiations with a son of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi about his possible surrender for trial, the chief prosecutor said Friday.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo told The Associated Press talks were being held through intermediaries, whom he did not identify, to assure Seif al-Islam Gadhafi that he would receive a fair trial and that he could be helped to find a new country of residence if he were acquitted or after completing a prison sentence.
He said he did not know exactly where Gadhafi is.
The 39-year-old was reported to be heading through the desert to Mali, where the former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi fled Wednesday.
An adviser to the president of Niger said Gadhafi should cross the border into Mali later Friday or Saturday.
Gadhafi and al-Senoussi were indicted by the International Criminal Court in June for unleashing a campaign of murder and torture to suppress the uprising against the Gadhafi regime that broke out in February.
The adviser in Niger, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Gadhafi was driving through the desert across an invisible line that separates Algeria from Niger. He said Seif al-Islam is being aided by Tuaregs, nomadic desert dwellers who supported Gadhafi and were angered by the manner of his death.
In Mali, Foreign Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said he had no information about Gadhafi's whereabouts but that if he were to enter Malian territory, its government would respect any international arrest warrant. "Whatever happens, Mali will respect its obligations in relation to the International Criminal Court. We are absolutely clear on that."
In Bamako, Mali's capital, Tuaregs and other Muslims crowded into a grand mosque built by the ousted Libyan strongman to hold Friday prayers in honor of Gadhafi, who died about a week ago in his hometown of Sirte in the final battle of Libya's civil war.
Conveying a sense of urgency, Moreno-Ocampo said he believed Gadhafi also was in touch with unidentified mercenaries offering to find him refuge in an African country that does not cooperate with the court.
He mentioned Zimbabwe as a likely possibility, and said the court was in contact with other countries to prevent Gadhafi's escape by denying any plane carrying him permission to fly through its air space.
"We are having informal conversations with Seif Gadhafi in order to see if he can be surrendered to the court," Moreno-Ocampo said in a telephone call from The Hague.
"We know he has a different option because apparently there is a group of mercenaries willing to move him to a country, probably Zimbabwe," the prosecutor said. Some of the mercenaries may be from South Africa, he said.
Gadhafi was pressing for clarifications about his fate should he be acquitted, and Moreno-Ocampo said he has made it clear to the fugitive that he could ask the judges to send him to a country other than Libya.
"He says he is innocent and he will prove his innocence," the prosecutor said.
Moreno-Ocampo also said the court was waiting for documentary evidence confirming the death of Moammar Gadhafi to formally close the case against him.
Seif al-Islam, whom the court described as the de facto prime minister during the early months of the uprising, was the heir apparent in the regime that ruled Libya for 42 years.
The U.N. Security Council authorized the court, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, to investigate events in Libya in February. The council's action was necessary because Libya did not recognize the court's jurisdiction and has not ratified its founding treaty.
But after the victory of rebel forces, it was unclear whether the National Transitional Council now governing Libya would seek to have Gadhafi handed over for trial in his own country or let the international court proceed with its case.
Human Rights Watch said the court's contacts with Seif al-Islam marked an important turn in the Libyan case.
"The gruesome killing of Muammar Gaddafi last week underscores the urgency of ensuring that his son, Seif al-Islam, be promptly handed over to the International Criminal Court for fair trial in The Hague," Richard Dicker, the director of the New York-based organization's International Justice Program, said in an email. "This will best ensure that justice is done for the serious crimes Seif is charged with having committed."
The court, which began work in 2002, has indicted alleged warlords or political leaders in seven African countries, including the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide in the Darfur region. It has no police force of its own and relies on the law enforcement agencies of member states to make arrests.
It has not yet delivered a verdict in any of the cases.
Michelle Faul in Johannesburg and Martin Vogl in Mali contributed to this report.