A large convoy of 200-250 Libyan armored vehicles crossed into Niger as the transitional rebel National Transitional Council hopes to stave off a lengthy insurgency that could upset the delicate transition to a post-Qaddafi era.
But while precarious negotiations for the peaceful surrender of Qaddafi loyalists at Bani Walid and Sirte continue, NTC officials are all too aware that Qaddafi loyalists still control the critical water pipeline to Tripoli.
Military sources from France and Niger said the convoy, escorted by the Niger army, arrived in the northern desert town of Agadez on Monday.
The convoy reportedly included officers from Libya's southern army battalions and pro-Qaddafi Tuareg fighters, and is thought to have crossed from Libya into Algeria before entering Niger, the sources said.
One striking uniformity in the reports is that there have been no sightings of fugitive strongman Muammar Qaddafi with the convoy.
Exhile In Burkina Faso?
Niger's harbouring of wanted Qaddafi-regime officials is "a breach of the United Nations travel [restrictions] for most of these people," Aly Abuzaakouk, executive director of Libya Human and Political Development Forum, told reporters.
He added Niger should "not side with the enemy of the Libyan people."
The French military source said he had been told the commander of Libya's southern forces, General Ali Khana, may also be in Niger, not far from the Libyan border.
He also said he had been told that Qaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam would join Khana and catch up with the convoy should they choose to accept Burkina Faso's offer of refuge. Reports suggest Burkina Faso is the final destination of the convoy.
Burkina Faso, a former recipient of large amounts of Libyan aid in western Africa, offered Qaddafi a place of refuge two weeks ago, but has also recognised the NTC as Libya's legitimate government.
Yipene Djibril Bassolet, the country's foreign minister, said that Qaddafi could go into exile in his country even though it is a signatory of the International Criminal Court, which has charged him with crimes against humanity.
According to Jane's Defense Weekly, Burkina Faso's military consists of some 6,000 men between 25 and 35 who are - aside from the President's elite security regiment - poorly trained, underequipped, and underpaid to the extent that regular army units mutinied in April of this year.
Inviting Qaddafi and his men may be a means for President Blaise Compaoré to secure his rule, although observers note that, once in, Libya's eccentric strongman is likely to become an entrenched warlord with revolutionary dollars to burn, and may not be so easily removed.
Western nations froze some $32 billion in Libyan assets before deciding to hand the money over to the NTC, but believe Qaddafi managed to transfer $4.2 billion out of reach in the early days of Libya's civil war.
It is also unknown just how many men, arms, and munitions Qaddafi may have smuggled out of the Libya in recent months - including chemical, biological and radioactive materials whose final disposition has caused sleepless nights in Western capitals.
Qaddafi haa said he is ready to fight to the death on Libyan soil, although there have been a number of reports that he might seek refuge in an African nation. If so, with a safe-haven from the ICC, Qaddafi has the funds, men, and means to plan and carry out a lengthy insurgency.
Mansour El Kikhia, chair of the political science department at the University of Texas, "What is bothersome to me more than anything else is that Qaddafi is aided by Tuareg supporters."
"Gaddafi is going to cause mischief, and it is now imperative that the council [NTC] prepares for these contingencies."
Throughout Libya's civil war there were reports Qaddafi employed Tuareg mercenaries to conduct hit-and-run guerilla actions in Libya. Backed by a loyal corps of Libyan soldiers in exile, those tactics are likely to continue unabated – and may destabilize the new regime before they have a firm grip on power.
"We won't surrender again; we are not women, we will keep fighting," Qaddafi vowed last week, adding "let Libya burn!"