THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, investigating Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his inner circle for possible war crimes, said he would welcome hearing Gaddafi's version of events as part of his probe.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who will advise the U.N. Security Council on May 4 of his progress, told Reuters the Council needed to start thinking now about how it would proceed if the case moves forward, for example how it would go about arresting people if warrants are issued.
Thousands of people are feared dead as a result of fighting between security forces and rebels who demonstrated against Gaddafi and took over parts of Libya in February.
Moreno-Ocampo said last week he was investigating Gaddafi, his sons and their inner circle to see if they should be held responsible for crimes against civilians committed by the security forces, including more than 250 killed in attacks and air strikes between Feb. 15 and 20 in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Once he has gathered sufficient evidence, the next step would be for the prosecutor to present his case to ICC judges, who will need to decide whether or not to issue arrest warrants.
Gaddafi has vowed to stay in Libya and fight to the death since protests against his 41-year rule began in mid-February, inspired by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that ousted longstanding authoritarian rulers.
Moreno-Ocampo said he would welcome hearing from anyone in the Gaddafi camp setting out their side of the story.
"I have met Saif, Gaddafi's son. I would welcome any information from Gaddafi and others who are on notice on how they are punishing past crimes and preventing new crimes," he said in an interview in his office in The Hague.
"I will inform the U.N. Security Council on May 4 on the Libya situation. I will inform them when I will present a first case to the court. The court has a mandate to do justice and will do its part," he said.
"If the judges then issue an arrest warrant, the U.N. Security Council will plan for its part. The real challenge for the Security Council and states is how to implement arrest warrants."
The ICC is the world's first permanent war crimes court with power to investigate crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. It has opened investigations in five African states.
The court has no police force and has, in the past, found it difficult or impossible to have some suspects arrested.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for example, is still at large, even though he has been charged with genocide in Darfur. And even when suspects are arrested, the court cases can drag on for years.
"There are no exit strategies for anyone who commits massive crimes. The new rule is: No leader can commit massive crimes to retain or gain power," Moreno-Ocampo said.
Unlike Bashir, "Gaddafi doesn't have an exit strategy, he's not welcome anywhere" and therefore would have few places to hide, he added.
Moreno-Ocampo said the immediate response to the situation in Libya reflected "a new world" where there was far greater pressure to respond swiftly.
"What's amazing is how fast the Security Council acted. The crimes were on Feb. 15. And on Feb. 26 the Security Council referred the case," he said.
"It's a new world. In Egypt, in Tunisia, we saw very peaceful demonstrations. But in Libya they were shooting civilians. The Security Council had to do something. No one hesitated."
He said his immediate challenge was how to prove that crimes against humanity had been committed. He has help from Interpol, satellite images to assess the situation on the ground and eyewitness reports from people who have left the country and have no family remaining in Libya who would be at risk.