As the hunt for former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi continues, a senior military official said Tuesday he has probably left the town of Bani Walid and is heading further south with the help of loyalist tribes towards Chad or Niger.
Hisham Buhagiar, who is coordinating the National Transitional Council’s efforts to find Qaddafi, told Reuters reports indicate he may have been in the region of the southern village of Ghwat, some 950km south of Tripoli and 300km north of the border with Niger, three days ago.
“He’s out of Bani Walid I think,” Buhagiar told Reuters. “The last tracks, he was in the Ghwat area. People saw the cars going in that direction....We have it from many sources that he’s trying to go further south, towards Chad or Niger.”
Buhagiar added that Qaddafi is believed to be travelling in a convoy of some ten cars and may be using a tent as shelter.
“We know that he doesn’t want to stay in a house, so he stays in a tent,” he said. “People say the cars came, and then they made a tent.” Buhagiar noted, however, that his sources had not actually seen Qaddafi himself.
The report comes after earlier on Tuesday it was reported that a large convoy of 200-250 Libyan armored vehicles crossed into Niger, giving rise to speculation that Qaddafi might be planning a counterattack from there.
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. All the reports on the convoy had said that there were no sightings of Qaddafi with the convoy.
On Monday, Qaddafi’s spokesman said the former leader is still in Libya. Commenting from a hidden location, Moussa Ibrahim said: “He is in Libya. He is safe, he is very healthy, he is in high morale.”
The Tuaregs are a Berber nomadic people who are the main inhabitants of the Saharan portions of North Africa and have also spread into West Africa. Tuareg aspirations were ignored when Mali and NIger were created by the West, in areas south of Algeria and Libya, respectively,in what they felt should have been their homeland.
Resulting violence in both countries left thousands dead until an agreement was reached in the 1990's which included the stipulation that Tuareg resistance fighters would be absorbed into the countries' respective national armies, and many also joined Libyan forces. The Tuaregs in Mali and NIger rebelled again between 2007-2009, Their leaders are urging the thousands who helped Qaddafi's forces to join the NTC (rebel) government and remain in Libya, mainly out of fears that their return southward will lead to another period of violent unrest in Mali and Niger. The NTC in Libya may fear that they could help Qaddafi mount a counter insurgency from Niger.