TRIPOLI — A Libyan delegation is in Baghdad to negotiate the release of countrymen detained in Iraqi prisons, senior officials said on Thursday, adding that eight prisoners have been pardoned.
"We will receive some of the (Libyan) prisoners that are in Iraq," Justice Minister Hmeida Ashur told AFP.
"The order for the release of eight prisoners in Iraq was signed yesterday and they will be transferred to Libya in the next couple of days," he added, without elaborating.
He was speaking during a visit to a freshly built courthouse and prison complex in the suburb of Tajura, east of Tripoli, which the interim authorities say reflect broader efforts to revive the judiciary and conduct fair trials.
Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil had said on Wednesday that negotiations were under way with Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to secure the handover of Libyan prisoners there.
On Thursday, the head of the Libyan delegation to Baghdad, Suleiman Fortia, said that there are "about 20 Libyan prisoners" being held in Iraq's penitentiary system.
He added that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had approved the release of eight.
"The president of Iraq has approved the release of eight prisoners," Fortia told AFP, adding that he hoped that the transfer to Libya of all prisoners, including four facing life-sentences, would be secured soon.
Of the eight released, Fortia said, most had committed "minor offences" such as illegal entry and forging papers in an effort to "flee from the regime of Moamer Kadhafi," the Libyan dictator who was toppled and killed last year.
Iraqi officials contacted by AFP gave no confirmation of a prisoner deal.
However, the presidency published a statement saying Fortia had delivered a letter from Abdel Jalil to Talabani. The statement gave no details on its contents.
Fortia also met Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
The foreign ministry in Baghdad said in a statement on its website that "the issue of Libyan prisoners and detainees in Iraq" had been discussed but made no mention of a conclusive agreement.
Libya and Iraq restored full diplomatic ties on March 23.
The North African nation announced in June 2003 it was breaking off diplomatic ties with Baghdad and closing its embassy shortly after the US-led invasion of Iraq earlier that year.