Convoys from Libya trigger questions about Gadhafi’s whereabouts
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — Two Libyan convoys have passed through Niger this week, officials there said Tuesday — fueling renewed speculation about the whereabouts of ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
One convoy was on its way Tuesday to Niger’s capital, Niamey, said a Nigerien military captain.
Another convoy reached Niamey a day earlier, a Nigerien Interior Ministry official said. That convoy included six high-ranking Libyan officials close to Gadhafi, including Gen. Mansour Daw, the source said. Daw is said to be the head of the Revolutionary Guard and is responsible for the security of Gadhafi and his family.
The sources did not want to be identified because neither is authorized to speak to the media.
Niamey is in Niger’s southwest corner, near Burkina Faso.
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Burkina Faso’s government told CNN Tuesday that it has not offered Gadhafi asylum, contrary to news reports.
If Gadhafi were to enter the country, Burkina Faso would “respect our obligation in the context of the International Criminal Court,” said government spokesman Alain Edouard Traore.
Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi and the former head of military intelligence, Abdullah Al-Senussi, face charges in the ICC at The Hague for crimes against humanity related to the regime’s violent crackdown against anti-government protesters. The court issued warrants for their arrests.
Niger and Burkina Faso are signatories to the Rome Statute, meaning they recognize the court’s authority.
In August, Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Yipene Djibril Bassolet announced that his country was recognizing the rebels’ National Transitional Council as Libya’s government. When asked what would happen if Gadhafi came to the country, Bassolet responded that Gadhafi could come, but that the government would respect its ICC obligations, Traore said.
The African Union has called on its member states — which include Burkina Faso — to refuse the ICC arrest warrants. In July, the AU called on the U.N. Security Council to activate Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which prevents any investigation or prosecution for a year.
The AU argued that the ICC arrest warrants seriously complicated efforts to find a negotiated political solution in Libya.
Traore told CNN that despite the AU postion, Burkina Faso would “respect our obligation in the context of the ICC.”
An AU representative could not be reached immediately on Tuesday.
Gadhafi has historically been a strong supporter of the African Union and has channeled large sums of money its way.
Traore said Gadhafi was not in his country, and that the Burkina Faso government was not expecting Gadhafi and doesn’t know where he is.
Abdallah Kenshil, chief negotiator for the National Transitional Council, said Tuesday a convoy left the pro-Gadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid three days ago.
“We believe that Saif al-Islam Gadhafi was part of that convoy,” Kenshil said.
NATO said Tuesday that while it “continuously receives reports” about weapons, vehicles and even convoys of vehicles moving throughout Libya, “we do not discuss the intelligence and surveillance information we collect.”
“To be clear, our mission is to protect the civilian population in Libya, not to track and target thousands of fleeing former regime leaders, mercenaries, military commanders and internally displaced people,” a NATO official said in an e-mailed statement.
On Monday, Gadhafi spokesman Musa Ibrahim told Syrian al-Rai TV by phone that Gadhafi was “in excellent health” and that “no one will be able to know where he physically is.”
Meanwhile, representatives of Libya’s transitional leadership met with tribal leaders in Bani Walid Tuesday to reiterate that pro-Gadhafi forces will not be harmed if they surrender peacefully.
“We want them to hear it from us again that we will not harm, kill or hurt anyone if they drop their weapons,” Kenshil said. He added that the NTC made clear there will be no retribution for residents of Bani Walid and that the new leadership of Libya will respect property rights.
“We follow the law and order,” Kenshil told CNN. “This is a new Libya.”
“We don’t have a deal yet, but we are very optimistic and very confident that the tribal leaders of Bani Walid will persuade Gadhafi loyalists and forces to drop their weapons and resolve this peacefully.”
Kenshil said rebels believe there are “several big fish” from the Gadhafi regime in Bani Walid.
For more than six months, Libyans have demanded democratic reforms and an end to Gadhafi’s 42-year rule. The unrest exploded into a civil war, and Gadhafi’s regime crumbled after anti-Gadhafi fighters stormed the capital of Tripoli in late August.
Gadhafi’s wife, two of his sons and other relatives fled to Algeria recently, deepening mistrust between the new Libyan leadership and its neighbor. But Algeria said it acted on humanitarian grounds.
Journalist Ibbo Daddy Abdoulaye in Niamey, Niger, and CNN’s Kareem Khadder and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report