Libya sends envoys to Niger


Libya's new leaders sent envoys to neighbouring Niger today to try to prevent Muammar Gadafy and his entourage evading justice by fleeing across a desert frontier toward friendly African states.

"The NTC has sent a delegation to Niger to discuss the possible arrival of Gadafy," Fathi Baja, the head of political affairs for the National Transitional Council, told Reuters in Benghazi, saying the ousted leader may be close to the Niger or Algerian borders, waiting for an opportunity to slip across.

"I think he's near one of these borders . . . and he's looking for a chance to leave. We're asking every country not to accept him. We want these people for justice," Mr Baja said.

However, Niger Justice Minister Marou Amadou today said Col Gadafy is not in Niger and reports of a 200-vehicle convoy entering the country from Libya in recent days are not true.

Reports on Gaddafi's whereabouts remain decidedly sketchy. Another senior National Transitional Council official said Col Gadafy had been tracked this week to an area in the empty Sahara of Libya's south.

He former Libyan leader is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

He was last tracked heading for Libya's southern border, the man leading the search for him said today.

Hisham Buhagiarsaid 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.

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 Col Gadafy en route to adjacent Burkina Faso, which has offered him asylum.

The United States said it believed the convoy was carrying senior members of Col Gadafy'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 last night Col Gadafy was "on the run".

Col Gadafy's spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said he had not left Libya, however. "He is in Libya. He is safe, he is very healthy, in high morale," he said.

Anti-Gadafy 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 Col Gadafy's home town.

France, Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as Libya's new rulers and Nato, all denied knowing where Col Gadafy was or of any deal to let him go abroad or find refuge from Libyans and the International Criminal Court.