Qadhafi trying for exile in an African state

A high-profile convoy comprising scores of vehicles from Libya has crossed into Niger following possible secret negotiations to allow Muammar Qadhafi, Libyan leader for 42 years, to seek exile in a neighbouring African state.

Reuters quoted military sources from France and Niger as saying that the Army of Niger had escorted between 200 and 250 Libyan military vehicles across the southern desert frontier of the two countries. In Benghazi, an opposition official said that 10 vehicles which crossed into Niger carried in them, gold, euros and dollars. The convoy apparently crossed from the town of Jufra into Niger with the help of Tuareg and Niger tribesmen.

The spokesman of the opposition Transitional National Council (TNC), Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, said the regime figures exiting into Niger had drawn cash from a branch of Central Bank of Libya in Sirte, Mr. Qadhafi's birthplace.

Reuters quoted a French military source as saying Mr. Qadhafi may join the convoy en route and head for neighbouring Burkina Faso, which has offered him asylum.

Burkina Faso has in the past been a heavy recipient of Libyan aid. However, the country has also recognised the opposition TNC. Analysts point out that further negotiations with authorities in Burkina Faso cannot be ruled out, since the country is a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which brings into question Mr. Qadhafi's extradition for trial for charges including crimes against humanity.

Mr. Qadhafi's whereabouts and of his son Saif-al-Islam, who could also be seeking exile, are yet unknown. However, the Arabic daily from London, Asharq al-Awsat is reporting that Mr. Qadhafi might be present in the Traghen Oasis in the southwest part of Libya, next to the border with Niger. Al-Arabiya television is reporting that Mr. Qadhafi was not part of the convoy that entered Niger.

In facilitating the possible asylum bid of Mr. Qadhafi and his son, General Ali Khana, commander of the southern forces, is emerging as an important figure. The French military source said that Gen. Khana may be already in Niger across the border. There is considerable anticipation in western intelligence circles that the Qadhafi father-and- son duo could join Gen. Khana and breakout for Burkina Faso, should they choose to accept that country's asylum offer.

On Monday, Niger officials said that Mansour Dhao, head of Mr. Qadhafi's security brigades along with 10 other Libyans had a day earlier, entered their country. A few days earlier, Mr. Qadhafi's wife and three of his children, had found refuge in Algeria, unlike the former strongman's luckless foreign minister, who has been arrested by the TNC combatants in the outskirts of Tripoli.

NATO decision

As prominent regime figures exited into Niger, NATO's decision not to target the convoy has raised eyebrows. A NATO spokesman Roland Lavoie confirmed that the alliance had decided not to impede the convoy's cross-border movement. “To be clear, 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,” Col. Lavoie observed.

Coinciding with the establishment's bid to find safe-havens abroad, TNC fighters moved to the outskirts of the Bani Walid—a Qadhafi stronghold, dominated by members of the powerful Warfala tribe.

Negotiations for Bani Walid's peacefiul surrender are being carried live on satellite television.

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