- Desert escape: from Gaddafi's inner circle to Niger
- Civilians in peril; Gaddafi son flees to Niger
- Turkish PM to visit Egypt, boost regional influence
Posted: 11 Sep 2011 09:40 PM PDT
NIAMEY (Reuters) - A loud banging on the door of his Tripoli home told Agali Alambo, a former Nigerien rebel leader who had worked his way into Muammar Gaddafi's inner circle, it was time to get out.
Alambo, now in Niger's capital Niamey, told Reuters in an interview how he had fled the Libyan capital as it was overrun by forces of the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council.
"The NTC was in the city, going from neighbourhood to neighbourhood ... They came to my house and they started knocking on the door but I didn't open," Alambo recalled.
"An elderly woman from next door appeared. When she told them there were women inside and to stop hassling them, they became a bit sheepish. I escaped over the roofs."
Before the uprising against Gaddafi, Alambo, 47, had made himself a key part of the ousted leader's security structures. Thousands of his fellow Tuaregs were regulars in Gaddafi's army, a way for them to earn a better living than back home in Niger.
During his flight, Alambo had to use all his considerable contacts and local knowledge of the desert between Libya and its southern neighbour to make good his escape.
His account provides at least some of the back story to the movements across the Libyan border earlier this week that ended with a clutch of ex-Gaddafi loyalists, including three top generals and a security chief, seeking refuge in Niger.
As NATO-backed rebels advanced on Gaddafi's remaining troops, Alambo's story is also that of an intimate circle of officials around Gaddafi that was beginning to fragment.
"For a month or so we'd had no contact with the Guide (Gaddafi), we didn't know where he was. The telephones didn't work and as soon as you switch on the satellite phone you signal to NATO where you are -- so we didn't use them."
Alambo, who before heading to Libya led the Tuareg rebellion against Niger's government between 2007 and 2009, said it was open season on African migrants -- popularly assumed to be pro-Gaddafi mercenaries -- in his Tripoli neighbourhood.
"Four Africans were gunned down 100, 200 metres (yards) from where I lived and their bodies thrown in the courtyard of a clinic there ... It was absolute chaos."
A friend found him a driver and Alambo fled to Bani Walid, the town of his Libyan wife's family and now one of Gaddafi's last strongholds. There he met up with an old acquaintance, Mansour Dhao, the chief of security brigades, and the two agreed to head to the southern town of Sabha.
After a series of hasty meetings with contacts in the city they concluded there was only safe option: escape through Niger.
"The Algerian border to the west was closed, just after Gaddafi's wife and children went through. On the Chad side, I don't know what is going on but a group of (local ethnic) Toubou fighters loyal to the NTC were blocking the way."
The journey of more than 1,000 km (600 miles) south through the desert to the northern Niger city of Agadez took two and a half days. According to Alambo, it was undertaken only after informing authorities in Niger -- a fact which explains the security escort waiting for them by the border last weekend.
"We passed through the Murzuq triangle (desert in southern Libya), the Salvador (border) pass and then straight down to Agadez. We had three vehicles and a fourth came to meet us with more petrol towards the end," he said.
Their arrival and transfer to Niamey has since been confirmed by Nigerien authorities, who says it took them in on humanitarian grounds and has no reason to arrest them.
They are due to be joined in Niamey by a second contingent of Libyan officials who turned up in Agadez late on Thursday, including General Ali Kana, the Tuareg who led Gaddafi's southern troops, airforce chief Ali Sharif al-Rifi, and Murzuq military commander General Mohammed Abydalkarem.
It is unclear what will happen to them next. That could depend on the outcome of meetings with a delegation of NTC officials expected in Niamey in the next few days.
Niger has said that if Gaddafi or his sons showed up, it would respect its commitments to the International Criminal Court, which wants Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi to face trial for alleged crimes against humanity.
Alambo says he has no knowledge now of the whereabouts of Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam or Saadi, another son.
"I can't be sure of anything about Gaddafi's sons," insists Alambo. "I haven't seen then although I heard that Saif al-Islam went up to Bani Walid and then arrived in Sabha around Sept. 3, after us. People said he wanted to carry on resisting ... I didn't see him and I don't know what they are going to do."
(Writing by Mark John; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 11 Sep 2011 09:40 PM PDT
TRIPOLI/OUTSIDE BANI WALID, Libya (Reuters) - - Libya's new rulers said on Sunday their fighters were holding back an assault on one of the last bastions loyal to Muammar Gaddafi after fighting their way into the town and finding civilians in peril.
Southern neighbour Niger said one of the fugitive former leader's sons, Saadi Gaddafi, had turned up there after crossing the remote Sahara desert frontier.
The National Transitional Council, which is trying to exert its control over the entire country three weeks after its fighters stormed Tripoli, said it plans to unveil a new, more inclusive government for the country in 7-10 days.
It also said it had begun producing oil, Libya's economic lifeblood, production of which had been all but halted throughout six months of civil war. In Tripoli, NTC fighters revealed they had captured Gaddafi's foreign spy chief.
Graphic on rebel leadership, click http://link.reuters.com/quz33s
Graphics on Libya/Middle East, click http://r.reuters.com/nym77r
The NTC says it will not declare Libya "liberated" until it has taken control of towns still in the hands of Gaddafi loyalists. It had given holdout towns a deadline of Saturday to surrender, and its fighters have been battling since Friday inside the town of Bani Walid.
They said on Sunday they were meeting stiff resistance in the town 150 km (95 miles) southeast of the capital and were also edging towards the ousted ruler's birthplace Sirte.
"We are inside Bani Walid, we control big chunks of the city. There are still pockets of resistance," one fighter named Sabhil Warfalli said as he drove away from the front line in the town 150 km (95 miles) southeast of Tripoli.
But the advance into the town seems to have stalled after heavy fighting. NTC spokesman Ahmed Bani told reporters the plan for Bani Walid for now was to wait.
"When our forces entered Bani Walid they found the brigades of Gaddafi using citizens as shields," he told reporters. He said Gaddafi fighters had put missile launchers on the roofs of houses with civilian families inside, making it impossible for NTC forces or their allied NATO war planes to strike.
Fighters said they were meeting fiercer resistance than expected in the town. Ambulances were rushing between the front and field hospitals. Civilians were fleeing.
A man who lived in the town centre was driving out in a car packed with his wife, some small children and assorted family members. "There is no food. People are trying to bring us food and medicine but Gaddafi gangs turn them away," he said.
The NTC has made a priority of hunting down Gaddafi and his seven sons. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the NTC chairman, said Gaddafi is still a threat as long as he is at large.
"Gaddafi still has money and gold," he said. "These are the fundamental things that will allow him to find men."
The justice minister of Niger said Gaddafi's son Saadi had been intercepted in a convoy after crossing the frontier, heading in the direction of the oasis town of Agadez. Two of Gaddafi's other sons, Mohamed and Hannibal, and his only daughter Aisha have already obtained shelter in Algeria.
Three sons remain at large -- Mutassim and Khamis who both run elite military units, and Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's one-time heir apparent who like his father is wanted for war crimes by the international court in the Hague. One son, Saif al-Arab, was reported killed during the war.
Asked what Saadi Gaddafi's status in the country was, Niger Justice Minister Marou Adamou said only that Niger would fulfill its humanitarian obligations. Washington and others have put pressure on neighbouring states not to shelter Gaddafi or officials who are wanted for crimes.
The NTC, based for months in the eastern city of Benghazi, faces the difficult task of winning the support of all Libyans, including fighters from towns and cities in the west who did the bulk of the fighting in the rapid advance on Tripoli.
The interim government also has to deliver on promises to quickly restart an economy frozen by international sanctions, the halt in oil production and an exodus of foreign worker.
Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril announced the NTC would form a more inclusive interim government within 10 days. He said it had started to produce some oil on Saturday, but gave no details of where or how much.
Inside the capital, Reuters reporters saw Bouzaid Dorda, a former prime minister who ran Gaddafi's external spy service, held by a group of about 20 fighters under guard in a house in the capital's Zenata district. A fighter said he would be handed over to the interim authorities later on Sunday.
A tall, lanky figure in safari jacket and slip-on shoes, Dorda was sitting on a sofa and was not physically restrained but an armed guard sat beside him. He declined a request for an interview, but in response to an assertion by a fighter that he had killed people, he replied: "Prove it."
"I am innocent until proven guilty. I am willing to be referred to the Libyan prosecutor general," he said. Visibly agitated, he added: "You have to remember it was a regime already in existence."
"RATS AND ARMED GANGS"
Bani Walid resident Khalifa Telisi, who had telephoned a family inside the town, said fighting was concentrated around the central market area, where Gaddafi forces were based.
"There is still resistance from the central market. All other parts of Bani Walid have been liberated," Telisi said.
Inside the town, a pro-Gaddafi local radio station appealed for the city's 100,000 people to fight to the death.
"We urge the people of Bani Walid to defend the city against the rats and armed gangs. Don't back down. Fight to the death. We are waiting for you. You are just a bunch of gangsters. God is on our side," an announcer said. The language echoed turns of phrase used by Gaddafi in recent broadcasts.
Gaddafi's loyalists also control Sirte, which sits on the main east-west coastal highway, effectively cutting Libya in two. Advancing NTC troops said the front line was now about 90 km east of the city.
Fighters were firing tanks and howitzers amid the sound of heavy machinegun fire and the roar of NATO warplanes overhead.
"There were clashes this morning and Gaddafi forces were firing Grad rockets, but we managed to advance a little bit and we will enter Sirte very soon," fighter Salah al-Shaery said.
The United Nations says it is worried about the fate of civilians trapped inside the besieged pro-Gaddafi bastions.
"Our big concern right now is Sirte, where we are receiving reports that there's no water and no electricity," U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told Reuters in an interview.
She said the world body was also worried about the fate of sub-Saharan African migrants, who face revenge attacks as suspected mercenaries even though most are ordinary labourers.
(Additional reporting by Sherine El Madany near Sirte, Emma Farge in Benghazi, Hisham el-Dani, Alexander Dziadosz and Mohammed Abbas in Tripoli, Barry Malone and Sylvia Westall in Tunis and Charlie Dunmore in Brussels; Writing by Alistair Lyan; Editing by Peter Graff)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 11 Sep 2011 09:09 PM PDT
CAIRO (Reuters) - Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan meets Egypt's new military rulers during a visit to Cairo starting on Monday that is likely to be scrutinised by Israel whose once cosy ties with both Muslim states have been shaken.
Erdogan's trip will be followed by visits to Libya and Tunisia, which, like Egypt, have thrown off long-time rulers, highlighting Turkey's bid to expand its regional influence.
Egypt has long viewed itself as a leading voice in the Arab world but Turkey's influence has risen steadily with its growing economic might and its assertive policy in the region, notably towards Israel, which has drawn praise from many Arabs.
"There will be rivalry over a regional role for sure. Egypt is not in a position to play such a role at the moment so Erdogan is trying to take advantage of that," said Adel Soliman, head of Cairo's International Centre for Future and Strategic Studies.
Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador in a feud over an Israeli raid last year that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bound for the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
Egypt said it would withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv last month after five Egyptian border guards were killed when Israel repelled cross-border raiders it said were Palestinian. But it did not follow through with the threat.
Egypt's army rulers have struggled to quell the public fury over the incident, which boiled over into an attack by protesters on the Israeli embassy that prompted Israel to fly its ambassadaor and embassy staff home on Saturday.
Both Egypt and Israel say they want a return to normal diplomatic activities. Cairo has vowed to protect the embassy and try the attackers, offering some reassurance to Israel over its commitment to a 1979 peace treaty.
Despite their spats with Israel, Soliman played down prospects of the two nations aligning policies against the Jewish state.
"I don't think they will have any big agreements when it comes to Israel," he said. "There is a lot of exaggeration, I see it more as theatrics than anything practical."
Egypt has received billions of dollars in U.S. military and other aid since signing its peace treaty with Israel, so the ruling generals face a balancing act when responding to public calls for a more assertive policy to towards the Jewish state.
When asked on Sunday about the attack on Israel's Cairo embassy, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu only said Egyptians had given their own reaction and said Israel was more isolated.
But he added: "We as Turkey say that we will continue to bring on to the agenda Israel's incorrect attitudes in all global platforms in the framework of international law and after this Israel will become even more isolated."
Uzi Rabi, Middle East analyst at Tel Aviv university, said Erdogan's trip was part of his bid to "strengthen his foothold in the Arab world."
"He will use his visit to Cairo as a barometer to measure just how popular he is in the Arab street but some Arab leaders may not be as enthusiastic about seeing him feed on this popularity," he added.
Erdogan will meet Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling council that took over when Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. He is expected to address the Cairo-based Arab League.
The Turkish prime minister will also meet his Egyptian counterpart Essam Sharaf. The two are due to sign a political declaration to create a strategic council for cooperation and will sign economic, trade, investment and other accords.
Erdogan is due to visit Tunisia on Wednesday and hold talks in Libya on Thursday.
(Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia in Istanbul and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Michael Roddy)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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