Gaddafi 'last tracked heading south'

2011-09-07 07:36

Benghazi - Muammar Gaddafi was last tracked heading for Libya's southern border, the man leading the hunt for the deposed leader told Reuters, and French and Niger military sources said scores of vehicles carrying pro-Gaddafi forces had crossed into Niger.

Hisham Buhagiar, who is co-ordinating efforts to find Gaddafi, said reports indicated he may have been in the region of the southern village of Ghwat, some 300km north of the border with Niger, three days ago.

"He's out of Bani Walid I think. The last tracks, he was in the Ghwat area. People saw the cars going in that direction .... We have it from many sources that he's trying to go further south, towards Chad or Niger," Buhagiar said in an interview on Tuesday.

French and Niger military sources said a convoy of up to 250 vehicles was escorted to the northern city of Agadez by the army of Niger, a poor and landlocked former French colony. It might, said a French military source, be joined by Gaddafi en route to adjacent Burkina Faso, which has offered him asylum.

The United States said it believed the convoy was carrying senior members of Gaddafi's entourage and urged Niger to detain anyone liable for prosecution for alleged crimes committed during the uprising against the deposed Libyan leader.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that Gaddafi was "on the run" but asked later on the Charlie Rose show if he thought he was still in Libya he said:

"You know, I don't know. I think he's been taking a lot of steps to make sure that in the end he could try to get out if he had to, but as to where, when, and how that'll take place, we just don't know."

High morale

Gaddafi's spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim said he had not left.

"He is in Libya. He is safe, he is very healthy, in high morale," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Anti-Gaddafi forces that overthrew the long-serving ruler two weeks ago said they also thought about a dozen other vehicles that crossed the border may have carried gold and cash apparently looted from a branch of Libya's central bank in Gaddafi's home town.

France, Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as Libya's new rulers and Nato, all denied knowing where Gaddafi was or of any deal to let him go abroad or find refuge from Libyans and the International Criminal Court (ICC), which wants to put him on trial for war crimes.

"To my knowledge, there have not been hundreds of vehicles that crossed into Niger," Niger's Interior Minister Abdou Labo told a news conference.

He did confirm reports that Gaddafi's security chief Mansour Dhao had been allowed to enter the country. He said this was on humanitarian grounds and that Dhao was the only Libyan official received.

Last stop Burkina Faso?

French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bernard Valero said it was for Libyans to decide the venue for any trial, but that Gaddafi must not slip away quietly. "He will have to face justice for all the crimes he has committed in the past 42 years," he said.

The US State Department urged Niger to arrest any Gaddafi officials entering the country.

A French military source said the 69-year-old Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam might join the convoy later to head for Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso dismissed this, saying the former Libyan ruler had not requested exile and that there was no sign he was making his way to the West African state.

"We are not aware of his presence in Burkina...but if he arrives at our border we have our procedures," Burkina Faso Communication Minister Alain Edouard Traore told Reuters Television.

Burkina Faso, once a French colony and a recipient of large amounts of Libyan aid, offered Gaddafi sanctuary last month but has also recognised the NTC as Libya's government.

President Blaise Compaore, like Gaddafi, took power in a military coup and has run the country for 24 years.

Scouring the desert

Nato warplanes and spy satellites have been scouring Libya's deserts for months, raising the likelihood that any large convoy would have been spotted. But a spokesperson for the Western alliance said it was not hunting Gaddafi and his cronies.

"Our mission is to protect the civilian population in Libya, not to track and target thousands of fleeing former regime leaders, mercenaries, military commanders and internally displaced people," Colonel Roland Lavoie said in a statement.

Niger's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Adani Illo, told Reuters that surveillance over thousands of miles of desert was tough.

"The desert zone is vast and the frontier is porous," he said. "If a convoy of 200 to 250 vehicles went through, it is like a drop of water in an ocean."

Gaddafi has broadcast defiant messages since he was forced into hiding two weeks ago, and has vowed to die fighting on his own soil. But he also has long friendships with his poor African neighbours, with which he shared some of Libya's oil wealth.

The sources said the convoy, probably including officers from army units based in the south of Libya, may have looped through Algeria rather than cross the Libya-Niger frontier. Algeria last week took in Gaddafi's wife, daughter and two other sons, angering the interim council now ruling Libya.

NTC officials said Saif al-Islam may have escaped south into the desert, toward the southern, pro-Gaddafi bastion of Sabha and perhaps on to Niger. Tracking him would be hard; 1 300km of sand separate Sabha from Agadez, with a further 750km of road to travel to Niamey.

Though conditions in Tripoli were improving with the return of water supplies two weeks after rebels overran Gaddafi's headquarters compound, evidence of brutality during his battle to cling to power during the Arab Spring is also accumulating.

Reuters journalists in the provincial town of Khoms found evidence Muammar Gaddafi had deployed squads which held suspected opponents in shipping containers, tortured them for information and disposed of their bodies in unmarked graves.

  • Anton - 2011-09-07 08:29

    COWARD RAT NUMBER ONE, and COWARD RAT NUMBER TWO, in hiding, and on the run, while they tell their last few supporters to keep on fighting untill death. What a bunch of lousy thugs!!!!

      2WhiteStars - 2011-09-07 15:17

      The day they capture Gadaffi and Saif I'm firing up one mother of a Cuban cigar.

  • Benign - 2011-09-07 08:50

    Cunning DOG - running like a coward - no BALLS.

  • tommy 2 - 2011-09-07 08:51

    It is very difficult to fight nato,u.s.,france & britain. Not forgetting the Rebel terrorists. The elders in bani walid,just bought more time for gaddafi. One wonders should gaddafi & his son come out and give the west & the rebels satisfaction that easily.It is clear that gaddafi has had a plan in place.

      slg - 2011-09-08 06:49

      The guy has made himself into a mad dictator responsible for untold pain and suffering among the Libyan people. He is responsible for his choices. He is in the positions he's now in because of the choices he made. That his position is so precarious reflects the poor choices he made.

  • Jaja - 2011-09-07 09:55

    Did you check in the Michelangelo in Sandton?

  • Jon JJ - 2011-09-07 11:16

    Just look at the "honourable" yellow piece of sh*t colonel hit the road. He still has the audacity to ask people to fight for him and put their lives on the line for him while he runs like a rabbit. This is one of Zuma's most repsected friends. Kind of puts things into perspective.

  • Haashiem - 2011-09-07 11:19

    If he really was committing crimes against humanity and war over the last 42years, why didnt they prosecute him loooooong time ago?

      slg - 2011-09-08 06:52

      So don't do it now? Is this what you're saying?

  • burtfred - 2011-09-07 11:44

    So that's why they moved JUJU's hearing away from Luthuli house. There'e no more parking space since the 250 vehicles arrived.

  • GB - 2011-09-07 11:52

    What a cunning stunt - run for the hills while your supporters die fighting.

  • skeelo - 2011-09-07 12:04

    i wish death upon usa, france and britain presintents just like they want Gaddafi dead

      GB - 2011-09-07 13:27

      Not sure why you would want that - Gaddafi is a criminal that has lined his own pockets to the detriment of the Libyan people. Thats why there was an uprising, you cretin. Oh and your spelling is an indication of the level of your intelligence.

      ex-pat - 2011-09-08 01:25

      Funny you should call them presintents, Skeelo - when Gaddafi came to SA for Mandela's inauguration he brought his tents with him and camped out. What a peasant.

      ex-pat - 2011-09-08 01:26

      peasant in tent...

      slg - 2011-09-08 06:52

      Then you'll go the same way as Gadhafi. Is this what you want for yourself?

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