30 Aug 2011

Libya rebels demand return of Gaddafis from Algeria

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s wife and three children have fled to Algeria. In Libya, the rebel council says it is an “act of aggression” that Algeria let them in the country.

Channel 4 News Graphic: Where are the Gaddafis?

A diplomatic row has blown up between Algeria and Libya’s rebel National Transitional Council over the escape of Gaddafi’s wife and three children from Libya.

The location of Gaddafi himself remains unknown after the conflict escalated last week and rebels opposing his 42-year rule swept into Tripoli and stormed his former compound.

But Algeria’s foreign ministry confirmed that Colonel Gaddafi‘s wife Safiya, daughter Ayesha and two of his sons – Hannibal and Muhammed – fled Libya and entered Algeria, a neighbour to Libya, on Monday.

A National Transitional council spokesman said the council would seek to extradite the Gaddafis.

Act of aggression

Spokesman Mahmoud Shamman said: “We have promised to provide a just trial to all those criminals and therefore we consider this an act of aggression.

“We are warning anybody not to shelter Gaddafi and his sons. We are going after them … to find them and arrest them. We have heard that Algeria will harbour them till they go to another country. They are trying to go to another country, possibly an east European country.”

NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil called on the Algerian government – which has not recognised the council as Libya’s legitimate authority despite 40 other nations backing the rebels – to hand over any of Gaddafi’s sons on its wanted list.

Asked if he knew where Colonel Gaddafi was, he told Al Jazeera TV: “If we knew where Gaddafi was now our revolutionaries would be on their way to capture him. We have no information that Muammar Gaddafi is in Libya or in any other place.”

He also appealed to Nato to keep up its air campaign in support of the rebels, saying Gaddafi was still a threat.

Rebel fighters are also currently advancing on Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, as they try to tighten their grip on Libya. It is not known if Gaddafi himself is there, but if they take the town it will be another symbolic blow for the regime. Rebels have said they will try to take the town either by negotiation, or force if necessary.

They are also working to establish full control of Tripoli after days of chaos and fighting. Gunfire is still occasionally being heard there but aid agencies have reported medical and other services beginning to function again. The NTC is due to move its headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli this week.

Gaddafi has not been seen since he was all but overthrown in Libya last week after a six-month uprising against his rule, backed by a Nato air campaign to protect civilians, culminated in the battle for Tripoli.

He has made some defiant audio broadcasts but over the weekend his spokesman Moussa Ibrahim suggested Gaddafi was now ready to begin talks on a power handover. His son Saadi was reportedly set to lead the talks but the rebels said they would only negotiate if Gaddafi surrendered and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was “delusional” as the NTC was already in charge of Libya.

A number of significant figures close to the Gaddafi were also apparently killed over the weekend. Rebels claimed to have “almost certain information” that his intelligence chief was killed at the weekend and that his son, Khamis, has also been killed. This is at least the third time that Khamis has been reported killed in the conflict.