Libya: Gaddafi son tracked down to playboy hideaway in Niger
AMERICAN diplomats trumpeted the news that Saadi Gaddafi, the third son of Libya's deposed leader, had finally been brought to heel on Wednesday, claiming he had been placed under virtual 'house arrest' after fleeing to Niger.
But tracked down by The Daily Telegraph to the Nigerien capital of Niamey, it was clear that Saadi's luxurious surroundings bore closer resemblance to a playboy hideaway than a prison.
After being flown to the capital on a military Hercules C-130 transport jet late on Monday, the former footballer was given luxurious lodgings in Villa Verde, a state guesthouse next to the presidential palace. The complex is now his well guarded refuge of calm from the war still waging in his homeland.
He joined a clique of Libyan generals in the city. Among them are Gen Ali Sharif al-Rifi, Libya's ex-air force chief and Mansour Dao, its security supremo, who are ensconced in the nearby Villa du Conseil de líEntente, a high-walled hillside complex of bungalows boasting cool verandas and handsome colonnaded administration buildings.
The Telegraph found well-built soldiers in combat fatigues drenched in sweat, but solidly clutching assault rifles across the chest, guarding the gates.
To Libyan rebels and their Western backers Saadi and the Gaddafi loyalists are on the run from justice.
"Our understanding is, like the others, he's being detained in a state guest house," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of Gaddafi's son on Wednesday. "It's essentially a house arrest in this government facility, is our understanding."
However, that claim does not quite seem to accord with the reality of Saadi's accommodation on the fringes of the plushest and most affluent district of Niger's impoverished capital, where the Gaddafi refugees have been given a warm welcome.
Mounkaila Saidou, a relatively wealthy man who sits with mango plants, lettuce seedlings and papaya shrubs at his feet, owes the success of his market gardening business to Col Muammar Gaddafi's investment in the country and he was among those on Wednesday to welcome the deposed dictator's henchmen.
"We have all this because of Gaddafi. He built the wells and the irrigation pumps all along the river," the elderly manager said. "Our cooperative would not exist without him. In the last three years he
has met all our costs. He's done more for us than our own government or foreigners.
"Why shouldn't his officials come here when their country is in danger."
The soporific setting had little to offer but infrastructure built by Col Gaddafi's largesse.
Women stride along the dirt tracks balancing plastic water cans on their heads.
Naked children seek relief from the stolid humid air by jumping in the river and playing with the water pumped from the Libyan-funded wells on the Niger's banks.
The list of Col Gaddafi's gifts is large and well known in Niamey. The main mosque and a tarred road along what is fancifully called the city's Corniche top the list.
Even Niger's democratically elected national assembly meets in a building with a large sign detailing gifts from the "Libyan guide and the people" to Niger.
Marou Amadou, Niger's youthful justice minister and government spokesman, said Niger is caught between a diplomatic rock and a political hard place by the arrival of Gaddafi's associates.
"We don't know if they will stay in the long term because we did not invite them," he said. "But remember Libya is a country at war so we cannot throw them back. At the same time we will uphold international obligations not to allow anyone subject to a travel ban to leave to another country. So they are stuck."
Saadi, a 38-year old who once tried to play professional football for Perugia in Italy's premier league, is proscribed from international travel by the UN sanctions committee. While his reputation as a dilettante is well deserved, he also commanded a militia used by the regime against the popular uprising.
Mr Amadou said strict conditions on the men were more subtle than outright detention. "Any of those with guns have had their weapons removed. We have taken all mobile phones and laptops," he said. They will not be allow to destablise our neighbour through political activities.
"We will not accept this. Instability in Libya is the greatest danger to Niger. We hope that peace, democracy and stability come back to our neighbour very soon."
Niger only just restored democratic rule in April when President Mahamadou Issoufou took over from a military junta. The new government resents the burden that the Libya conflict has placed on its reputation.
"The bulk of the Gaddafis have gone to Algeria but Niger is feeling all the pressure and attention, perhaps because it is a democratic government," said Mr Amadou. "We will fulfil our international obligations. On the other hand no one mentions the burdens we face after 200,000 Nigeriens have returned home from Libya."
The fledging government, which relies on Western support for its reform programme, is under open pressure not to allow Saadi Gaddafi to spearhead a rearguard fightback from Niger.