Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Libya conflict: Secrecy surrounds Gaddafis in Algeria

Col Gaddafi's wife Safia, his sons Hannibal and Mohammed and his daughter Aisha in Libya between 2004 and 2010. Muammar Gaddafi's wife and three of his children arrived in Algeria last week
Members of Col Muammar Gaddafi's family who fled the fighting in Libya to neighbouring Algeria are most likely being held in presidential accommodation in the capital, Algiers, a foreign diplomat has told the BBC.
Mystery continues to surround the exact whereabouts of the deposed leader's wife, Safia, two of his sons, Hannibal and Muhammad, and his daughter Aisha, along with up to 20 members of their entourage.
Since their arrival in Algeria a week ago, the only official statement about their activities has come from Algeria's ambassador to the UN, Mourad Benmehidi, who told the BBC his that country was receiving the Gaddafis on humanitarian grounds.
Shortly after their arrival, Aisha Gaddafi gave birth to a daughter at a hospital in Djanet, an oasis town in the Sahara, close to the border with Libya, according to a spokesman for the health ministry.
But speculation has been mounting about the credibility of the news: in April, Aisha Gaddafi claimed that a Nato air strike had killed her four-month-old daughter Mastoora in Tripoli.
Rumours According to the El Echorouk newspaper, the Gaddafis were flown from Djanet to Algiers late last week.
Since then, rumours have abounded as to where they might be staying.
Archive photo of Aisha Gaddafi, April 2011 There is speculation around the claim that Aisha Gaddafi gave birth
A foreign diplomat who did not want to be named said it was most likely they were being held in accommodation reserved for high-level Algerian and foreign dignitaries in or close to the capital.
"They will want to have them somewhere where they can keep a close eye on what they are doing," he said.
"It will be some sort of state complex, where security is very tight, and that is away from public view."
A trip to the Residence d'Etat (the State Residence) in Zeralda, a suburb of Algiers, on Friday did not produce any answers.
The complex is set back from the road in acres of forest, and surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire.
Armed guards stand watch in sentry posts every 100m along the perimeter fence.
"The Gaddafi family is not here," said a guard cradling a Kalashnikov rifle.
"They might be somewhere else, I couldn't say."
'Better not to enquire' Local people said they had not heard that the Gaddafis might be close by.
"They would never tell us anyway," said a man in a white robe and sandals on his way home from Friday prayers at the mosque.
"It's better not to make enquiries - it's just playing with fire."

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The longer they keep the Gaddafis, the more embarrassing it looks for the Algerian government”
Foreign diplomat
The Algerian government has said that if Col Gaddafi himself were to seek refuge in Algeria, they would hand him straight over to the International Criminal Court, which has put out a warrant for his arrest, along with his son, Saif al-Islam, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Sanussi.
The members of his family currently in Algeria, who didn't play a prominent role in political or military affairs under the Gaddafi regime, are not wanted by the court.
But the foreign diplomat said it was unlikely that the Algerian government would want to keep the family here for too long.
Although Algeria is the only one of Libya's neighbours not to have recognised the National Transitional Council - they say they are concerned about Islamist elements in the new leadership - the foreign minister, Mourad Medelci, has said recognition will come shortly.
"The longer they keep the Gaddafis, the more embarrassing it looks for the Algerian government," the diplomat said.
There has been speculation that the Gaddafis are negotiating transfer to a third country, possibly Venezuela or Zimbabwe, or another country in sub-Saharan Africa.
But as details of the family's lavish lifestyle in Libya continue to emerge, their options dwindle, the diplomat said.
"Who wants that problem right now?" he said.
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