LEIGH SALES: Overseas now, and the fate of Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor remains in peril tonight. She's under arrest in Libya where she was providing legal advice to the son of the former leader Colonel Muammar Gadaffi. An Australian diplomat is now driving to a prison in Zintan in north-west Libya to hopefully see Melinda Taylor. He's already held talks in the capital Tripoli with Libyan officials.
For the latest details I was joined a short time ago from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia by the Foreign Minister, Bob Carr.
[Excerpt from earlier interview]
LEIGH SALES: Senator Carr, what's the latest information that you have about Melinda Taylor's whereabouts?
BOB CARR: In Zintan, unfortunately in a police cell, not under house arrest as she was until yesterday. Our ambassador has arrived from Rome and with people from the International Criminal Court and other relevant Ambassadors will be travelling those 160 kilometres from Tripoli to Zintan. His goal is to see that he's got access and that negotiations for her release can get underway in a serious way.
LEIGH SALES: So firstly, that 160 kilometres that they're travelling, is that happening today there?
BOB CARR: Yes, it is today, it is today and he hopes within a few hours to start that journey with that team.
LEIGH SALES: And is he guaranteed that he'll be seeing her when he gets there?
BOB CARR: I wouldn't say it's a guarantee but certainly the group from the International Criminal Court, the other Ambassadors, the other relevant Ambassadors have got the expectation that they will be able to see their people. And I think they've been — I think it's fair to say they've been encouraged in that view by the conversations they've had with the Attorney-General's Department in Tripoli.
LEIGH SALES: So can you tell us a little more then about that meeting that they have had in Tripoli with the Attorney-General's Department. What have they been told there?
BOB CARR: Leigh, I'm a bit reluctant to say anything that might make it harder for us to get what we want here, which is first of all consular access so Melinda can speak to Geoff Roberts, her husband, in the Hague and to her parents, John and Janelle, in Brisbane. And beyond that, and as soon as it can be negotiated, her release from detention. If we talk up possibilities there's just a danger that in the somewhat tense atmosphere in Libya, still recovering as it is from the tumult of last year's revolution, things could be misunderstood and the process of negotiations could be complicated.
LEIGH SALES: Given that Libya is a very fractured country are you confident that the central authorities in Tripoli are able to control what's going on in Zintan?
BOB CARR: That was one of my concerns, but the conversation I've just concluded with our Ambassador, David Ritchie, a few minutes ago suggests that there's more confidence that the authority of the central government can be applied in Zintan than I was assuming, and that is a very hopeful thing.
David Ritchie said that the indications to him are that the central government is still able to exert its authority in Zintan. Now, that's notwithstanding the presence of a militia in that city, notwithstanding the fact that the revolutionary impulses that have been at work in that part of Libya have from time to time been at odds with the work of the Transitional Council based mainly in Tripoli and Benghazi.
So, I'm a little more hopefully about that authority being exerted in Zintan than I was before that conversation with David Ritchie.
LEIGH SALES: You mentioned that she is now being held in a police cell, do we know anything more about the conditions there?
BOB CARR: No we don't, and I — that was one of the questions of course that I wanted clarified with Ambassador Ritchie. But even after his conversations with the ICC, there's just too much doubt, hence the importance of getting that delegation to Zintan as soon as possible and having them enjoy consular access.
LEIGH SALES: I take it from what you said earlier that she hasn't yet been able to have that call to her husband. How often are you in contact with her husband and with her parents and what sort of support are they being given?
BOB CARR: They've had briefings from DFAT, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In addition to that I've spoken to the parents once, and to Geoff Roberts, her husband, on three occasions. Obviously at this time all our thoughts are with them, we can only imagine the anxiety they feel, especially with the latest news. But I've said to them that we are doing everything we can.
LEIGH SALES: A spokesman for the Libyan Government told the ABC this morning that they want Ms Taylor to provide them with information about the whereabouts of a former Gadaffi regime figure. Have the Libyans made it clear to Ambassador Ritchie exactly what they're looking for in order to facilitate her release?
BOB CARR: No, but the Deputy Foreign Minister said to me that they believe grave offences have been committed by Ms Taylor, that they have documentation of those offences.
Clearly what is at the heart of this problem is different interpretations and we adhere to the view that she was performing a work that is covered by quasi diplomatic immunity, if not full diplomatic immunity. She's working for an international organisation, she had a relationship with a client who's being charged by the International Criminal Court. She's working as someone allocated the job of defending that client in the International Criminal Court proceedings.
The Libyan authorities, based on information from their representative in Zintan, take a different view of the exchanges that took place between Ms Taylor and Mr Gadaffi and therein lies the material that is going to be subject to negotiation between our Ambassadors on the one hand with the ICC, and the Libyan authorities.
LEIGH SALES: Senator Bob Carr, thank you very much for making time to join us from there.
BOB CARR: Thank you Leigh.
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