The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court urged Moammar Gadhafi's own aides Tuesday to arrest the Libyan leader and turn him over for trial on murder and persecution charges — or risk prosecution themselves.
As battles raged through a fifth month between Gadhafi's forces and rebels backed by NATO air strikes, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo was optimistic that Gadhafi's regime would be over within two or three months.
On Monday, the court issued arrest warrants for the Libyan leader, his son Seif and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi for crimes against humanity.
But the court has no police force, and relies on the law enforcement agencies of the 115 countries that ratified the court's founding statute.
Libya is not a member, but Moreno-Ocampo advised Gadhafi's inner circle to arrest their leader.
They "can be part of the problem and be prosecuted or they can be part of the solution — work together with other Libyans and stop the crimes," he told reporters at the court.
NATO forces operating in Libyan skies have no mandate to arrest suspects, he said. And NATO itself has said it does not want to put combat forces on the ground.
Also Tuesday, NATO released reconnaissance photographs showing the words "THANK YOU" and "THX NATO" written in large letters on structures on the ground. NATO said they were taken near Brega on June 20.
The commander of NATO's Libya operation, Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, said Tuesday that any scaling down of the daily airstrikes was "not appropriate," despite calls for a negotiated end to the conflict and the alliance's inability to give rebel fighters a decisive edge in their battle to topple Gadhafi.
Arrests 'a matter of time'
Moreno-Ocampo said the other option for arresting Gadhafi is through the rebels fighting to end his more than four decades in power. Rebels have pushed to within 50 miles of the capital Tripoli.
"Today, it is time for arrests," Moreno-Ocampo told reporters in The Hague.
"It is a matter of time ... Gadhafi will face charges. The arrest warrants are not going away," he added. "I don't think we will have to wait for long ... In two or three months, it is game over."
One group of anti-Gadhafi rebels, based in the Western Mountains region southwest of Tripoli, made their biggest breakthrough in weeks on Sunday to reach the town of Bir al-Ghanam, where they are now fighting pro-Gadhafi forces for control, their spokesman said.
The move took them 18 miles north of their previous position and closer to Tripoli, Gadhafi's main power base.
A rebel spokesman in the town of Zintan said Monday had been quiet and there was no word from rebels early on Tuesday on the situation in the region.
But a spokesman in Misrata said Gadhafi's forces struck at the town east of Tripoli overnight.
"Gadhafi's forces bombarded Misrata last night. There were no casualties, thank God. Today the situation is quiet for the moment," said the spokesman, who gave his name as Youssef.
Gadhafi's regime has rejected the court's authority and dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
"This court is nothing but a cover for the military operations of NATO," said Justice Minister Mohammed al-Qamudi. "The ICC does not really mean anything for us Libyans because we are not party to it and because it's merely a political tool for exerting pressure and political blackmail against sovereign countries. ... It has become clear that it's a tool of imperialism."
Thousands of Libyans poured into Liberty Square in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi after the court's decision was announced Monday, with women ululating and dancing and several men shooting celebratory gunfire in the air.
The square echoed with chants of: "The blood of the martyrs will not be wasted" and "Freedom is here. Today we win."
Presiding Judge Sanji Monageng of Botswana said Gadhafi and his inner circle reacted to uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt by mapping out a "state policy ... aimed at deterring and quelling by any means — including by the use of lethal force — demonstrations by civilians against the regime."
Hundreds of civilians were killed, injured or arrested in the last two weeks of February, and there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that Gadhafi and his supporters were responsible for the murder and persecution of civilians as well as attempting to cover up the crimes, she said.
Moreno-Ocampo said Tuesday his office is investigating the cover-up attempts as well as reports of widespread rapes by pro-Gadhafi forces. But he said he had not been able yet to directly link Gadhafi to the rape allegations.
Moreno-Ocampo said there should be urgent negotiations over the future of Gadhafi and his regime, but he said there must be "clear legal limits" to any talks. It must be clear that any ICC member country should arrest him if he travels to its territory.
"Gadhafi cannot retain power to keep attacking his victims," he said.
The commander of NATO's Libya operation, Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard said Tuesday that any scaling down of the daily airstrikes was "not appropriate," despite calls for a negotiated end to the conflict and the alliance's inability to give rebel fighters a decisive edge in their battle to topple Gadhafi.