The European Union has welcomed the release of four staff members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after being detained in Libya last month on allegations of spying.
"I welcome the release of the four staff members of the International Criminal Court today and commend the efforts of all who have worked patiently to achieve this result," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Aston said in a statement issued late Monday.
Noting that the ICC had been under detention in Libya since June 7 while in the North African country on an official mission, Ashton expressed hopes that "they will rapidly be reunited with their families."
Ashton's remarks came hours after Libya freed the four ICC staff members, following immense pressure from the UN-backed court as well as most of the international community. Their release was announced during a visit by ICC president Sang-Hyun Song to Libya.
Addressing a press conference on Monday in the western Libyan town of Zintan, where the ICC team was detained last month, Song apologized to Libyan authorities for the "difficulties" caused by the mission. He also insisted that "the ICC has no intention to compromise the national security of Libya."
The ICC delegation was detained in Zintan on June 7 after the team met with Saif al-Islam, the son of former Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi, to make him aware of his rights. They were later placed in preventive detention for 45 days.
Libyan officials said later that the delegation was detained after Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor passed some coded documents from former Qadhafi regime henchman Mohammed Ismail to Saif during their meeting. Ismail is currently Libya's most wanted man,.
Melinda was appointed by the ICC to represent Saif in the case brought against him. Saif has been under detention in Zintan after being captured by rebel forces in Libya's southern desert in November.
The ICC wants to try Saif in connection with his role in attacks on protesters and rebels during Libya's pro-democracy uprising last year. The Libyans insist Saif should be tried in the north African nation itself.
Apart from Taylor, the detained ICC officials included her Lebanese translator Helene Assaf, Russian Alexander Khodakov and Spaniard Esteban Peralta Losilla. Only Taylor and Assaf were accused of passing the documents to Saif. The Russian and the Spaniard remained with the detained duo as a sign of solidarity.
The ICC was established in 2002 as the world's first permanent war crimes court to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. It is authorized to try cases involving individuals charged with war crimes committed since July 2002.
Libya is currently in the midst of preparations for its first-ever free polls on July 7 to elect a 200-member Constitutional Assembly, which will oversee the drafting of a new constitution and form a government.
Last year, the autocratic regime of Col. Moammar Qadhafi was ousted in a NATO-backed armed rebellion. Qadhafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years with an iron fist, was shot dead on October 20 by revolutionary fighters on the outskirts of his hometown Sirte.
by RTT Staff Writer
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