Toppled Libyan leader 'resolute'
Tarhouna – Muammar Gaddafi is determined to fight his way back to power, the toppled dictator's spokesperson said on Tuesday, but a large convoy of his soldiers has apparently deserted, crossing the Libyan desert into neighbouring Niger.
Also on Tuesday, tribal elders in a Gaddafi stronghold were trying to persuade regime loyalists holed up inside to lay down their arms, a rebel negotiator said.
Still, Gaddafi’s spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim was defiant.
Gaddafi is "in excellent health, planning and organising for the defence of Libya," Ibrahim told the Syrian TV station al-Rai, adding that both Gaddafi and his sons remain in Libya.
"We are fighting and resisting for the sake of Libya and all Arabs," Ibrahim said. "We are still strong and capable of turning the tables on Nato."
Gaddafi loyalists have been holed up in several towns, including Bani Walid, some 140km southeast of Tripoli. Thousands of rebel fighters have surrounded the town, as rebel leaders tried to negotiate a surrender deal.
Rebel negotiator Abdullah Kanshil said on Tuesday that tribal elders want assurances that the rebels will not take revenge, and are trying to persuade Gaddafi loyalists to lay down their arms.
A member of the rebel transitional council said by telephone on Tuesday he was in a village near Bani Walid called al-Manasser that had just raised the rebel flag.
"The regime is over"
"We want the rest of the tribes to do like al-Manasser to avoid bloodshed and to realise that the regime is over and it will not come back," said Mubarak Sabah, who is from Bani Walid and represents the town on the transitional council. "They should realise that their brothers around the country are enjoying freedom and that they can follow them."
Sabah reiterated that rebel fighters would not move into Bani Walid before Saturday unless the town surrendered, so as to avoid "a bloody war" with what he said was a minority of Gaddafi supporters in the town.
Across the desert late on Monday, a large convoy of Gaddafi loyalists rolled into the frontier town of Agadez, Niger, said Abdoulaye Harouna, the owner of the local newspaper. The convoy consisted of more than a dozen pickup trucks bristling with well-armed Libyan troops, said Harouna, who saw the arrival.
At the head of the convoy, he said, was Tuareg rebel leader Rissa ag Boula, a native of Niger who led a failed war of independence on behalf of ethnic Tuareg nomads a decade ago. He then sought refuge in Libya and was believed to be fighting on behalf of Gaddafi.
It was not immediately clear if the convoy included any members of the Gaddafi family or other high-level members of his regime.
Gaddafi’s regime is believed to have financed the Tuareg rebellion in the north of Niger. African nations where Tuaregs represent a significant slice of the population, like Niger, have been among the last to recognise the rebels that ousted Gaddafi.
Gaddafi remains especially popular in towns like Agadez, where a majority of the population is Tuareg. The Sahara Desert market town is the largest city in northern Niger.
Harouna says the pro-Gaddafi soldiers accompanying Boula were coming from the direction of Arlit.
The desert that stretches north of Arlit borders both Libya and Algeria. Some members of Gaddafi’s family, including his wife, his daughter Aisha and two of his sons, recently sought refuge in Algeria.
A rebel spokesperson for Tripoli's military council said the rebel leadership was aware of the convoy but had few details.
"It was not a large number of soldiers. We think it was a protection team of some sort," Anis Sharif said.
A Nato official in Brussels said the alliance did not have any immediate information about the convoy.
Nato warplanes don't normally patrol that deep south in the Sahara, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with standing alliance policy.
Nato reported bombing several sites overnight near Gaddafi’s Mediterranean hometown of Sirte, a region Nato has targeted heavily every day in recent days.
Gaddafi’s whereabouts are unknown, but speculation has centered on Sirte and the other loyalist holdouts of Sabha in the far south and Bani Walid.
The rebels hold most of Libya and have sketched out plans for a transition to democratic rule that would begin with a "declaration of liberation" that was likely to come before Gaddafi’s strongholds are defeated and he is captured.