The international Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is today expected to formally seek the arrest of Muammar Gaddafi for crimes linked to the brutal suppression of demonstrations against his 42-year rule.
The court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is expected to issue warrants against Colonel Gaddafi and at least two other leading members of the Libyan regime on charges related to killing unarmed protesters and displacing civilians.
The three-month-old conflict has already claimed thousands of lives, according to human-rights organisations. It has also continued despite sustained Nato air strikes against military installations.
A spokesman for the opposition Transitional National Council declined to comment on the ICC action.
The Libyan dictator has only been seen briefly in public since his compound in central Tripoli was bombed on 2 May in an attack that killed one of his sons and several grandchildren. Colonel Gaddafi's prolonged absence has fuelled speculation that he was injured. Last week, the Italian Foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said that the strongman had left Tripoli. "The international pressure has probably prompted Gaddafi to take the decision to seek a safe place outside of Tripoli," Mr Frattini said. "I would say he fled Tripoli but maybe not Libya."
Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Libyan government, described the suggestion as "nonsense" and said that Colonel Gaddafi was untouchable.
The Libyan government has accused Nato of deliberately targeting the leader after the coalition repeatedly attacked his compound.
The expected move by the ICC is unlikely to have any swift effect on the conflict, which, according to military analysts, is ebbing towards a stalemate.
Senior officials at the ICC yesterday claimed that leading members of Colonel Gaddafi's regime had come forward to offer evidence against the leader and his loyalists.
In a statement yesterday, prosecutors said: "During the last week, the Office of the Prosecutor received several calls from high-level officials in Gaddafi's regime willing to provide information.
"The Office collected good and solid evidence to identify who bears the greatest responsibility; no political responsibilities but rather individual criminal responsibilities for crimes committed in Libya."
Investigators from The Hague have conducted 30 missions to 11 countries, interviewed more than 50 witnesses, including "key insiders", and reviewed videos, photographs and other evidence, prosecutors said last Friday.