Niger offers Gaddafi a safe haven as rebels draw near
Published 08/09/2011 | 05:00
Niger signalled last night that it could be prepared to offer a potential safe haven for Col Muammar Gaddafi as Libyan rebels claimed to have the deposed dictator surrounded.
The country's government said it would not automatically refuse Gaddafi temporary asylum or try to prevent him and his entourage from entering its territory.
Mohamed Bazoum, foreign minister, said Niger would not actively invite Gaddafi, but added: "Of course he can cross into Niger and we will decide what to do if that is the case. We cannot stop him from coming."
Asked if Niger might close its border, Mr Bazoum added: "We have no means to close the border. It is too big."
He also warned other loyalist Libyan officials would attempt to flee into the country. "When the war is over, many people will come. We are sure of this."
Three convoys of senior Gaddafi officials have already crossed into Niger in the past week, including Mohmmad Dao, his security chief. Gaddafi was not thought to be with them despite claims he could be seeking asylum in Burkina Faso. US and British sources have indicated he is still in Libya.
Rebel fighters claimed to have surrounded Gaddafi in a 40-mile radius area. "He can't get out," said Anais Sharif, a rebel commander. "We are just playing games with him."
The National Transitional Council said African attempts to spirit Gaddafi to a third country were making a mockery of International Criminal Court arrest warrants and six months of Nato bombing.
"He must face justice after all the bloodshed," said Shamsiddin Ben-Ali, a spokesman.
Fathi Baja, a member of the NTC, said its envoys would travel to Niamey, the capital of Niger, to demand assurances that Gaddafi would not escape its clutches.
But the government of Niamey has only limited presence in a northern desert region awash with bandits, ex-rebel nomads and a growing number of al-Qa'ida-linked gunmen. (© Daily Telegraph, London)