Stalemate in Libya amid rumours about Gaddafi's whereabouts

Stalemate in Libya amid rumours about Gaddafi's whereabouts

The Libyan rebels were still waiting Tuesday outside the town of Bani Walid, controlled by loyalists of fugitive leader Moamer Gaddafi, despite announcing that they had struck a deal with residents to enter it without fighting, dpa reported.

A delegation of the rebels met with a group from the town to discuss how they would enter, and ensure that taking control of the city would be done peacefully.

"We will prepare our weapons and carry them with us to scare any one who plans to fight, but we have no intention to fight," a rebel said during the meeting, which was broadcast live on Al Jazeera.

"We have not come to take revenge and will not mistreat the people," he said.

The delegation from Bani Walid said that almost 90 per cent of residents supported ending the standoff peacefully.

It was not clear, however, if the deal has been formalized, or if further talks were expected.

The rebels have been stationed at a key position around Bani Walid, which is located 180 kilometres south-east of Tripoli, waiting for the result of the talks to decide whether they will enter by force or peacefully.

"While many cities and smaller communities enjoy relative security, pro-Gaddafi forces are still present in varying degrees in the areas of Bani Walid, Sirte, near the Al Jufrah oasis and the region of Sebha," NATO military spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie said in Naples.

The capabilities of Gaddafi's forces were degraded, Lavoie said, adding that mercenaries were fleeing and that many former regime leaders and military commanders were abandoning their followers.

The rebels believe that at least one high-profile Gaddafi loyalist was hiding in the town. Others think that one of Gaddafi's sons - either Saadi or Saif al-Islam - or government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim was likely in the town, which is home to the Warfala, one of the largest tribes in the country.

Earlier Tuesday, Moussa said Gaddafi was "in excellent health" and was "still powerful," adding that Gaddafi's sons had taken on his role in the fight for the country.

"We will carry on fighting until victory," Ibrahim told the Damascus-based Al-Rai television channel.

Broadcaster Al Arabiya, quoting military sources, reported earlier that a large convoy of Libyan army vehicles had crossed the desert frontier into Niger. There was speculation that Gaddafi might be in it under a secret deal struck to allow him to seek refuge in a friendly African state.

The Niger embassy in Cairo refused to comment on the report.

Niger government officials said Sunday that officials loyal to Gaddafi had crossed into the country, among them internal security chief, Mansour Daw.

Meanwhile, the Libyan Central Bank denied reports that the convoy was carrying large amounts of gold from the coastal city of Sirte. A bank representative told Al Arabiya that the suspicion was that the convoy was carrying foreign currency.

NATO refused to comment on these reports.

"We do not discuss the intelligence and surveillance information we collect," Lavoie said in Naples, where the alliance's Libya mission is headquartered.

He acknowledged that "NATO continuously receives reports and inputs from various sources regarding weapons, vehicles and even convoys of vehicles moving throughout Libya."

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said he had "no information" on Gaddafi's possible flight from Libya, while adding: "I don't think he's looking to stay in his country."

"Given that he can't travel by plane, all that leaves him is a car," he said.

There was "no urgency" in ending the military campaign, as long as the situation had been "settled militarily," Longuet said.

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