THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Dutch prosecutors have put Eritrean trafficker Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam on their most wanted list and want try him for crimes related to his alleged people-smuggling ring.
Kidane was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Ethiopia in absentia in June for starving and torturing African refugees and migrants headed for Europe in warehouses in Libya.
The Dutch public prosecutor's office said an investigation revealed that Kidane's organisation "abuses, extorts, kidnaps and rapes Eritreans" who want to reach the Netherlands.
The refugees and migrants are mistreated in camps in Libya while relatives living in the Netherlands are blackmailed, the authorities said in a press release.
Under the concept of universal jurisdiction, Dutch law allows cases to be brought against foreign nationals for crimes committed abroad if victims are in the Netherlands.
Kidane escaped from court premises in Addis Ababa in February after nearly a year of trial on eight counts of human trafficking.
His whereabouts are currently unknown, the authorities said, adding that they were working together with Italy to track him down.
Thousands of refugees and migrants undertake long, dangerous journeys in small boats from Libya to Europe each year in search of a better life, often drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.
Criminals have been exploiting the instability in Libya, where there has been little central authority since the 2011 uprising, by detaining migrants in warehouses and torturing them for ransom.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Angus MacSwan)