By Louis Charbonneau
NEW YORK, May 2 (Reuters) - International Criminal Court investigators have proof that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces committed crimes against humanity, and the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said on Monday he would soon ask for up to five arrest warrants.
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in February to refer Gaddafi's violent crackdown against anti-government demonstrators to The Hague-based ICC and Moreno-Ocampo said his first recommendations for indictments should reach ICC judges within weeks.
"We have strong evidence on the beginning of the conflict, the shooting of civilians," he told Reuters in an interview, noting that killing unarmed civilians would qualify as a crime against humanity.
"Also, we have strong evidence of the crime of persecution," he said. This includes "massive arrests and torture of people, and some forced disappearances ... (for) talking to journalists or going to demonstrations."
Without giving precise details of his proof, Moreno-Ocampo said "for these two crimes we have a lot of evidence." He plans to brief the Security Council on his probe on Wednesday.
Once Moreno-Ocampo makes his recommendations to the ICC's pretrial chamber, the judges must decide whether there are sufficient grounds to issue arrest warrants.
Moreno-Ocampo said he would initially ask for up to five arrest warrants, but disclosed no names.
It is not clear whether NATO would be involved in the implementation of any future warrants. The Security Council has a mandate to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. Enforcing ICC warrants would require it to target individuals for capture and transfer them to The Hague.
Permanent veto-wielding council members Russia and China have become increasingly critical of the U.N.-backed intervention to protect civilians in Libya. U.N. diplomats say Moscow and Beijing have complained privately and publicly that the operation is targeting Gaddafi and his family.
RAPE AS WEAPON?
The ICC is also looking at the rebel camp, which has been fighting Gaddafi's forces since February in what is now a full-scale civil war that Western officials say is deadlocked.
Moreno-Ocampo said the court was probing allegations that the rebels attacked black Africans in Libya, whom they assumed to be mercenaries aiding Gaddafi's forces. Western officials and Libyan rebels have said that nationals from Chad, Niger and other African states have been among the mercenaries in Libya.
The rebels have pledged to cooperate with the ICC, Moreno-Ocampo said, while Gaddafi's government has not responded to the court's requests for information.
ICC investigators are also looking into allegations that Gaddafi's forces have used rape as a weapon.
As part of the investigation of alleged rapes, Moreno-Ocampo said, the ICC is looking at allegations that some of Gaddafi's soldiers have been issued packets of the popular anti-impotence drug Viagra from Pfizer Inc.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice brought the Viagra charge up in a meeting of the Security Council last week, council diplomats said.
If it were true that Gaddafi's troops were being issued Viagra, diplomats said, it could indicate they were being encouraged by their commanders to engage in rape to terrorize the population in areas that have supported the rebels.
"We are trying to confirm this public announcement through evidence so it can stand in court," Moreno-Ocampo said. "In some other conflicts you have had some battalions that are just devoted to rape."
He said the ICC was investigating other alleged war crimes charges against Gaddafi's forces, including the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. (Editing by Christopher Wilson)