Between 200 and 250 Libyan armored vehicles crossed the border into Niger on Monday. Qaddafi and his remaining forces had been thought to be in Bani Walid, a town 100 miles southeast of Tripoli and about 150 miles west-northwest of Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. From Bani Walid, Niger is just over 600 miles straight south, though no roads actually go straight south. The convoy was met by the Nigerien Army and escorted to the town of Agadez, another 600 miles into the heart of Niger. France and Niger reported that the convoy did include several high level members of the Qaddafi regime, but could not verify if Qaddafi and sons Saif and Saadi were with it. Niger’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Abdou Labo, denied the convoy, but confirmed the Qaddafi’s security chief Abdullah Mansoor and his family had been given asylum.
Qaddafi’s wife, daughter and sons Hannibal and Mohammed and their families have already been given asylum in Algeria and are staying in the capital, Algiers.
Qaddafi has close ties with the Tuareg rebels in Niger and his people may have been trying to meet up with them and find refuge in whatever hideouts they have. One theory is that Qaddafi and his family may be trying to reach Burkina-Faso, over the southwestern border of Niger. Burkina-Faso offered exile to Qaddafi two weeks ago, but has since formally recognized the National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya. Foreign Minister Yipene Djibril Bassolet as reaffirmed the offer of exile, even though Burkina-Faso is a signatory of the International Criminal Court, which has outstanding warrants against Qaddafi and several members of his regime and family. Qaddafi appears to have paved the way for this over the years by sending large amounts of aid to the country.
With the exit of the convoy, talks have resume for the surrender of Bani Walid. Al Jazeera reporter Anit McnNaught has reported that the NTC is “trying to persuade the people of Bani Walid that there is a new era ahead of them that does not involve retributions or collective punishments. They were giving gentle assurances. This is a very very slow, lengthy, carefully executed process.” The failure of the NTC and NATO to shut down Qaddafi’s state television and radio possibly means that the people of Bani Walid have only known about the rebellion from Qaddafi’s view, that it was a foreign invasion aided by international terrorists. This is a situation that may play out in other communities, particular the ones farthest from the coast and isolated in the Libyan desert.
Qaddafi loyalists are still saying that Qaddafi, Saif and Saadi are in Libya organizing their army to retake the country. There are also rumors that some of Qaddafi’s weapons, in particular missiles, have made it into the hands of an al Qaida-affiliated group.
The U. S. State Department confirmed that they have been in contact with the Nigerien government concerning the convoy. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said “We have strongly urged the Nigerien officials to detain those member 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. All of them would be subject to the U. N. travel ban which is why we’re working closely with the government of Niger. [The two governments have] a very good conversation about what needs to happen to them.” The United States has urged Niger to work with the NTC to bring the convoy’s passengers to justice. “Our understanding is that they are going to take appropriate measures so that they can take the steps that are necessary and to work in the future with the [NTC] on what is to be done with both the people and the property.”
Qaddafi has spent years creating relationships with African countries instead of with the Arab nations of the Middle East. At one point, he walked out of the Arab League, saying he wanted to be the head of the African Union. To fight the rebels, he is known to have recruited mercenaries from Chad and the Tuaregs but may have drawn fighters from other countries as well. It’s a very large continent and there are many places Qaddafi could hide out. The effort now is to catch him before he finds a good bolthole.