Algeria would hand over Muammar Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court if he entered the North African country, a local newspaper reported on Tuesday, a day after Algiers gave safe haven to members of his family, as the rebels' military chief said the final battle in Libya was imminent.
Algeria announced on Monday that Qaddafi’s wife, two of his sons and his daughter had crossed into its territory, prompting Libya’s ruling interim council to demand that they be handed back to face trial.
Quoting Algerian sources, the el-Shorouk newspaper said on its website that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had told government ministers during a cabinet meeting on Monday that Algeria would respect international law on all matters related to the Libyan conflict.
“Should Qaddafi try to enter Algerian soil amid talk that the rebels are tightening their grip on the border with Tunisia, and Egyptian (border) restrictions, Algeria would arrest him and hand him over to the International Criminal Court in compliance with international agreements,” the newspaper said, according to Reuters.
It said the decision was not a reaction to the toppling of the Qaddafi regime but was in accordance with the ICC’s arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam and his intelligence chief over accusations they committed crimes against humanity.
No one was immediately available for comment from the government.
In a separate report, Shorouk said Qaddafi’s family members, who had crossed into Algeria, were in the southeastern Illizi province, which borders Libya, and would not be allowed to go to the capital Algiers.
Qaddafi’s location remains unknown a week after Tripoli fell to his foes.
Meanwhile, Algeria’s al-Watan newspaper said the country was closing the southern part of its border with Libya. Quoting diplomatic sources, al-Watan said an instruction had gone out to security services to close the southern part of the border with Libya, because of the “precarious situation” there, according to Reuters.
The Algerian government could not immediately be reached for comment. Algeria’s border with Libya is hundreds of kilometers long and stretches through vast expanses of empty desert.
Algerian officials say they are concerned that Islamist militants have infiltrated Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), and that al-Qaeda’s North African wing will exploit the chaos in Libya to acquire weapons and explosives.
The NTC has angrily denied those charges and in turn accuses Algeria of siding with Muammar Qaddafi during Libya’s civil war, something the Algerian authorities deny.
"Zero hour approaching"
The rebels’ military chief Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani, meanwhile, told reporters on Tuesday the launch of the final battle in Libya was imminent.
“Zero hour is quickly approaching. We would like everyone to know that we are ready for a final military battle,” he told a news conference in the rebel stronghold in the east, according to AFP.
“So far we have been given no indication of a peaceful surrender. We want everyone to know that we are prepared militarily for the battle that will end the conflict,” Bani said.
Asked about possible rebel moves, he replied this was “military intelligence” and declined to elaborate.
“We continue to seek a peaceful solution, but on Saturday we will use different methods against these criminals,” he said.
Earlier, National Transitional Council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil told reporters in Benghazi that the NTC was giving a Saturday ultimatum for Muammar Qaddafi’s forces to surrender or face a military onslaught.
Bani expressed “surprise” that the inhabitants of Sirte “still reject our peaceful overtures to avoid the spilling of blood on both sides.”
He also said that rebel fighters may have killed Qaddafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
Rebel fighters had destroyed two armored vehicles between the towns of Bani Walid and Tarhuna, southeast of Tripoli, and captured Kadhafi loyalists told them that one of the passengers was Senussi, Bani said.
The vehicles were destroyed by fire after the convoy refused to stop as rebel fighters demanded, he said, adding that Senussi has yet to be buried.
In June, the Hague-based court issued arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam and Senussi for murder and persecution since mid-February, when a bloody uprising started.
Senussi is Qaddafi’s brother-in-law.
Khamis Qaddafi alive
Separately, Libyan state television denied in a message posted on the Internet on Tuesday that Khamis Qaddafi, a son of the strongman, was dead as claimed by the rebels.
“We repeat that information on the death of Khamis Qaddafi is a lie," the Allibya network, which is run by Seif al-Islam, reported on its Facebook page, according to AFP.
Late on Monday, opposition officials said that Khamis, 28, was killed south of Tripoli and buried on Monday, citing rebel leaders.
The death of Khamis, a feared military commander, has been prematurely announced several times during the Libyan conflict.