Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Libya conflict: Niger undecided on Gaddafi refuge

A Libyan rebel tank takes position in Om El Khanfousa, east of Sirte. Photo: 5 September 2011 Anti-Gaddafi troops have recently made major advances
Niger says it is still considering how to deal with fugitive Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi if he decides to enter the country to seek refuge.
The country's foreign minister told the BBC Niamey would decide later whether to accept Col Gaddafi or hand him to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
There has been speculation that Col Gaddafi may go to Niger after groups of loyalists fled there in recent days.
Libya's rebel-led authorities have asked Niger not to take Col Gaddafi in.
Niger recognises the ICC, which is seeking the arrest of Col Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his former intelligence chief Abdullah Sanussi.
'No means' In a BBC interview on Wednesday, Niger's Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum admitted that officials from Col Gaddafi's government were among those people who had recently crossed into Niger.
Niger Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum, 7 September 2011 Mohamed Bazoum says the Niger-Libya border is just "too big"
But he said that neither Col Gaddafi nor any of his sons were currently in his country, dismissing reports in some media.
"There is no news about Gaddafi in Niger, we have no news about him, it is not true that he has tried to come into Niger or he came into Niger."
Regarding the recent Libyan refugees, Mr Baoum said: "We told them that we can accept them to stay for humanitarian reasons, but they have to respect what the international law allows them to do or not allow them to do."
The foreign minister also stressed that Niger simply had "no means to close the border" with Libya, describing it as "too big".
Niger has belatedly recognised Libya's rebel-led National Transitional Council (NTC), the BBC's Mark Doyle in Niamey says.
But government in Niamey clearly feels it cannot just abandon Col Gaddafi completely, a man it has had a long relationship with, our correspondent adds.
Border 'too big' Mr Bazoum said at least three convoys had crossed from Libya into Niger, and that none of Col Gaddafi's sons was travelling in them.
Officials in Niger have said Col Gaddafi's security chief, Mansour Daw, was among those who entered the country in the convoys over the weekend or on Monday.
He added that those who had arrived from Libya - of whom there were fewer than 20 - were free to stay in Niamey, or to continue to Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso - which borders Niger to the south-west - has denied reports that it had offered to welcome Col Gaddafi.
Meanwhile, Fathi Baja, a senior official from the NTC, said the Libyan transitional authorities would ask Niger to send any Col Gaddafi aides back to Libya. He also said people in the area had reported seeing gold and money in the convoys that drove to Niger.
"If that happened, we want that money back," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
A US state department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, called on countries bordering Libya to the south to "make every effort to control their borders".
"We have strongly urged the Nigerien officials to detain those members of the regime who may be subject to prosecution, to ensure that they confiscate any weapons that are found, and to ensure that any state property of the government of Libya - money, jewels, etc - also be impounded so that it can be returned to the Libyan people," she said.
Gaddafi strongholds Col Gaddafi's wife, two of his sons and his daughter fled to Algeria last week.
His own whereabouts remain the subject of speculation - though rebels say they believe he is still in Libya.
Senior Western officials say they have no information about where Col Gaddafi may be, but have no indication he has left the country.
A Nato spokesman, Col Roland Lavoie, told the BBC that Col Gaddafi was not a target, but Nato would continue to strike "command and control centres".
"If we have intelligence revealing that from a specific location attacks are being co-ordinated or communications are being received or sent to conduct attacks or the threat of attacks, we would take action," he said.
The NTC has been trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution to stand-offs in a handful of Libyan towns or cities still controlled by Gaddafi loyalists.
These include Bani Walid, Jufra, Sabha and Col Gaddafi's birthplace of Sirte.
The NTC has positioned forces outside Bani Walid, and says talks will continue there until a deadline on Saturday.
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