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Niger wary of Saif hand over

Still on the run, Saif al-Islam is reported to be heading towards Niger with the help of heavily armed Tuareg tribesmen, leaving the West African nation with the possibility of facing local anger if they were to hand him over to the International Criminal Court.

Muammar Gaddafi hosted talks between Niger, Mali and Tuareg rebels resulting in a shaky peace deal in the decades-long insurgency. The Niger government are now faced with the prospect of more violence if they were to hand Saif to the ICC.

Speaking to Reuters, Habi Mahamadou Salissou, vice-president of the Nigerien Democratic Movement, said,

"It's perhaps best that he goes of his own accord rather than to be hunted and caught by Libyans who will end up lynching him as they did to his father."

Moustapha Kadi, national coordinator of Niger's human rights and democracy groups said however,

"If he decides to seek asylum, the government is free to study that - without ruling out the ICC's request. We should put Niger's interests first. We have just got shot of a rebellion. We don't want any more conflict in the north."

The ICC have warned that they would take steps to order a mid-air interception if Saif attempted to flee from his hideout in the desert.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero commented,

"We don't care whether he goes on foot, by plane, by boat, by car or on a camel, the only thing that matters is that he belongs in the ICC."

Western educated Saif was once seen as the liberal reformer of the Gaddafi regime and forged key relationships with Western states. Once protests in Libya started however, Saif vowed to crush all opponents of his father’s regime.

Asked about Saif’s change of stance, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said,

"After all these years, nothing surprises me."

See our earlier post: 'Saif seeks flight to ICC war crimes court' (Oct 2011

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