A Libyan government official denied on Tuesday that Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem had defected and fled the country, saying instead that he was on a diplomatic trip.
The official, who wished not to be named, told the German Press Agency dpa that Ghanem was on a diplomatic mission, but declined to say which country he had traveled to or for what purpose.
Ghanem is chairman of the state-owned National Oil Corporation NOC and has been oil minister since 2006. He was formerly prime minister for three years.
A spokesman for the rebel Interim Transitional National Council in the eastern city of Benghazi told dpa that Ghanem had been in touch with the opposition and was likely in Austria.
Mohammed al-Menyafi claimed that Ghanem had wanted to leave Tripoli weeks ago, but could not find a way out since those closest to Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi are being closely monitored following a string of high-level defections in the past three months since the uprising began.