Qaddafi's wife and three of his children flee to Algeria

The wife and three children of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi flee to Algeria. Col Qaddafi remains a fugitive.

The deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's wife and three of his children fled to Algeria yesterday.

Safiya Qaddafi, with daughter Aisha, sons Hannibal and Mohammed and their own children crossed the border from western Libya at 8.45am local time.

The foreign ministry in Algiers said they had informed the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and Mahmoud Jibril, head of Libya's interim government, the National Transitional Council.

So far Algiers has remained neutral during the revolution in Libya and has refused to recognise the NTC, leading some among the opposition to accuse it of supporting the Qaddafi regime.

Col Qaddafi himself remains a fugitive, but there is widespread speculation that he is being sheltered by loyalists in his home town of Sirte.

Regime supporters are urging people there to fight or "be killed by bloodthirsty attackers", complicating efforts to arrange a peaceful surrender, the NTC said yesterday.

Anti-Qaddafi forces are approaching Sirte, 460 kilometres east of Tripoli by road, from east and west. They say they would rather not fight for the city but talks seem stalled.

"I can't say there's any real progress because we have difficulty with the regime people from Tripoli," said Hassan Droy, the NTC representative for Sirte, who is based in the eastern city of Benghazi. "They're trying to tell the people that the battle is no longer for Qaddafi but to protect themselves." Three days ago a message from Col Qaddafi was broadcast in Sirte, urging people to fight to save themselves, Mr Droy said.

Another spokesman, Mohammad Zawawi, said Qaddafi loyalists were telling people the rebels wanted to kill them. "But we are sending a clear message that our troops won't kill anyone."

That message had been passed via satellite telephone to rebel sympathisers in Sirte, who were spreading it, he said.

Sirte, which Col Qaddafi developed from a small village to a city of 100,000 people, is the ousted leader's last bastion on the coast, where most of Libya's six million people live. Many of the city's residents belong to his Qaddafa tribe.

A convoy of rebel pickup trucks filled with fighters inched slowly towards Sirte from the west yesterday, taking control of the small desert outpost of Abu Grein, 130km from the city. "We are cleaning up this area. Qaddafi men are still everywhere around here," said NTC fighter Hassan Shaba.

The green flags of the Qaddafi regime flapped in the wind from most of the town's buildings. Few civilians could be seen in Abu Grein's dusty streets. The roar of Nato warplanes overhead could be heard, but there was no evidence of airstrikes nearby.

"We are waiting to be liberated properly," said Ismail Abdullah, a student. "No one knows what's going on here. No one wants the Qaddafi men around here. We are begging the rebels to stay."

To the east, NTC fighters reached the town of Nawfaliyah about 100km from Sirte, and said they were facing only mild resistance from Qaddafi forces. "There are some light clashes. They don't have ammunition. Their morale is low," said Senussi Mabrook. "God willing, the people of Sirte will liberate the city. We will wait two, three or four days. There is no problem. We have Nato up above."

NTC spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah said most people in Sirte were against Col Qaddafi. "But it's the minority of Qaddafi loyalists who have the weapons," he said. "They're using all kinds of scare tactics but it's a losing strategy."

Mr Abdulmolah said NTC forces had heard that about 45 Qaddafi soldiers and officers had been executed in Sirte after refusing to fight for what they saw as a lost cause. There was no independent confirmation.

Some fighters were moving to cut a road linking Sirte with the desert town of Sabha, another Qaddafi stronghold about 500km to the southwest, Mr Zawawi said. Nato aircraft have been bombing military positions and ammunition dumps of pro-Qaddafi forces in Sirte.

Human rights groups say both sides have executed prisoners, but Mr Droy said the message to Qaddafi loyalists was that there would be no reprisal killings when Sirte is taken.

"We have our people in Sirte ready to take control. They are ready to put these people safely in jail where they will wait for a trial," Mr Droy said.

Anti-Qaddafi forces say time is on their side and there is no deadline for the defenders to give up, and the city is without power and is running short of food and medicine.

"Day by day, the people who are trying to get the Qaddafi soldiers to put down their guns are getting stronger and stronger," said Mr Droy. Mr Abdulmolah said: "It's a waiting game in favour of the liberating forces."

In Doha, the head of the NTC said Col Qaddafi was still a threat to the country and the world. Speaking at a meeting of defence ministers from countries supporting the NTC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil called on Nato to keep supporting the movement."I call for continued protection from Nato and its allies from this tyrant," he said.

* Reuters

Published: August 30, 2011 04:00 AM


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