Libya’s NTC members concerned Gaddafi sought asylum to Niger

U.S. urges Niger government to hand over Gaddafi’s son to NTC

Algerian FM speaks on Libya policy

Libya's new leaders were on Wednesday urgently seeking Niger's help in preventing Muammar Gaddafi, his family or his troops from crossing the border, as the hunt for the fugitive strongman intensified.

New regime forces, meanwhile, were poised to battle loyalist troops still holding out in their remaining strongholds of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, Sabha in the deep south and the coastal city of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown.

Gaddafi's sole remaining media mouthpiece, Mishan al-Juburi, owner of the Syria-based Arrai Oruba television, said the defeated leader was still in Libya, along with his son Seif al-Islam.

"I can tell you that I spoke with Gaddafi very recently," Juburi told AFP.

"He is in Libya, in very good spirits, feels strong, is not afraid, and would be happy to die fighting against the occupiers," Juburi, a former Iraqi MP, said by telephone.

"His son Seif al-Islam is in the same state of mind," added Juburi, whose channel has broadcast a number of audio messages from Gaddafi and his son since they went into hiding after Tripoli was overrun by rebel fighters last month.

Asked how he makes contact with Gaddafi, Juburi said: "When I need to talk to him, I send him a message, or he contacts me when he wants to pass a message."

Libya's new rulers are anxious to arrest Gaddafi and put him on trial, thus sealing their hold on the country.

They are fearful he may slip into a neighboring country, particularly Niger, to which a convoy carrying other senior officials of his ousted regime fled on Monday.

Bidding to cut off Gaddafi's potential escape routes, the now-ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said it had dispatched a team to Niamey.

"We have sent a delegation that is going to Niger to talk... about securing our borders to stop any kind of infiltration of Gaddafi troops to Niger, to stop any attempt by Gaddafi or his family to escape to Niger," Fathi Baja, head of the NTC's political affairs committee, said.

"We ask any neighboring countries to stop Gaddafi people from going to their land," Fathi told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi.

When asked about the convoy that entered Niger reportedly carrying money and gold, he replied: "We don't know how much money this convoy was transporting but, according to what we know, security reports provided by groups in this region, from phone contacts and certain people's dispatches, we can say that they have seen money and gold in these cars."

He added: "If that happened, we want that money back."

The large convoy of civilian and military vehicles entered Niger late on Monday and drove through the city of Agadez.

Niger was adamant Gaddafi was not with the convoy, while Washington said that while some senior officials of the ousted regime were in the convoy, he was not believed to be among them.

Gaddafi's remaining forces have been a given a Saturday deadline to surrender, in a bid to spare further bloodshed.

At Bani Walid, 170 kilometers (105 miles) southeast of Tripoli, negotiators were still seeking to broker the oasis town's peaceful surrender.

"The negotiations were successful and we are waiting for the NTC to give us the green light to go in," said the NTC's chief negotiator, Abdullah Kenshil.

NTC leaders say they are committed to avoiding bloodshed in Bani Walid, even after a delegation sent there on Tuesday retreated after being fired on.

"The elders have joined the revolution," Kenshil said, adding that some of them were in Tripoli and others were back in Bani Walid after armed men loyal to Gaddafi initially prevented them from returning.

In the hamlet of Wishtata, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the front, Colonel Abdullah Abu Asara said his volunteer fighters were ready for anything.

"We are fully ready to attack, we are just waiting for the command from the National Transitional Council, we are under their command now," he told AFP.

NTC forces on Wednesday were trying to advance along the road from Um Khunfis to the Red Valley, the pro-Gaddafi forces' front line, some 60 kilometers east of Sirte, an AFP journalist said, reporting artillery fire.

Loyalist forces putting up strong resistance fired several shells at NTC vehicles at an electricity power station, but there was no immediate word on casualties.

On Tuesday, NTC forces advanced at least eight kilometers (five miles) towards Sirte in heavy fighting, commanders said.

NATO, in its latest operational update on Wednesday, said its warplanes had bombed six tanks, six armored fighting vehicles, four armed vehicles, a munitions store and an artillery piece in Sirte the previous day.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Libya on September 15 for talks with NTC chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil in Benghazi, the Turkish premier's office said on Wednesday.

In July, Ankara recognized the NTC as Libya's legitimate government.

Portugal's Foreign Minister Paulo Portas, visiting Benghazi on Wednesday, urged his country's businessmen to return to Libya, calling it "a land of opportunities."

The U.S. government on Tuesday urged Niger to detain senior officials from the Gaddafi government who it believes crossed into the country in a convoy from Libya, the U.S. State Department said.

Niger officials informed the U.S. ambassador that the convoy carried several senior members of Gaddafi's government, but gave no indication that Gaddafi himself was among them, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.

"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, etcetera, also be impounded so that it can be returned to the Libyan people," Nuland said.

She said the United States had also urged Niger to work with Libya's ruling interim council to ensure that its interests are served in bringing the convoy's passengers to justice.

"All of them would be subject to the U.N. travel ban which is why we're working closely with the government of Niger," Nuland said.

Niger officials said Mansour Dhao, Gaddafi's personal security chief, crossed into Niger Sunday and a U.S. national security official said Washington believed the convoy also carried several other prominent Libyan passengers.

A second U.S. official said that one of the convoys was of a "configuration" which suggested it was carrying high-ranking figures from Gaddafi's regime.

However, this official said he had no information about Gaddafi himself traveling in the convoy or fleeing Libya, and Nuland said Niger had given no indication that any Gaddafi family members were among the passengers.

Military sources told Reuters that a convoy of between 200 and 250 vehicles had been escorted to the northern city of Agadez by Niger army personnel. U.S. officials said that Gaddafi's regime had close ties to Niger-based Tuareg rebels, some of whom had gone to Libya to help defend Gaddafi.

A French military source told Reuters it was possible that Gaddafi and his son and would-be heir, Saif al-Islam, could join the convoy later and head for neighboring Burkina Faso.

Nuland said the United States was in touch with all of Libya's neighbors to underscore the necessity that Gaddafi be brought to justice.

Algeria will officially recognize Libya's new rulers, once the former rebels form a new government representative of all Libyans, the country's foreign minister said.

Algeria was close to the deposed Libyan leader and has been a lone holdout among Arab countries in recognizing the National Transitional Council that overthrew the longtime Libyan ruler.

"I believe that we have been clear to our brothers in the NTC about the necessity of forming a government representing all Libyans," Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said late Sunday at a press conference with his Malian counterpart.

Relations between the former rebels, who now control all but three cities in the oil-rich North African nation, have been strained with neighboring Algeria, especially after it gave refuge to Gaddafi's wife, daughter and two of his sons.

Together with other African countries that had close ties with Gaddafi, Algeria has been reluctant to engage with Libya's new rulers.

Medelci, however, said in the last 15 days, direct contacts between the two countries have been initiated and a dialogue is developing.

He added that for Algeria, Mali and the other countries of the African Union, recognition of the Libyan council was conditional on the formation of a government composed of all elements of society — in an apparent reference to those who supported Gaddafi's regime.

Top Libyan officials, including acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and council chief Mustafa Abdul-Jalil have arrived in Tripoli and say the former rebels will announce a new government in the coming days.