Mountainous terrain hampering Gaddafi hunt: NTC

TRIPOLI Mon Oct 10, 2011 5:05pm EDT

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TRIPOLI Oct 10 (Reuters) - Fugitive Muammar Gaddafi may be hiding in a remote and thinly-populated area surrounded by mountains in an attempt to frustrate efforts to track him, a representative of Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Monday.

Gaddafi has been on the run since NTC forces surged into Tripoli on August 23 and has eluded capture along with two prominent sons.

Mousa Alkoni, NTC representative for the nomadic Tuareg tribe, said the ousted leader might be moving around a "prism" of the country's vast southern deserts that straddles Libya, Algeria and Niger.

"We fear that they may have taken refuge in this area as it's well secured by the surrounding mountains and it used to be a refuge for Gaddafi troops in the past," Alkoni said, speaking to reporters in Arabic through a translator.

"They can even build up a small city -- or a small country -- in this area without anybody really realizing ... I do recommend sending out choppers to these areas or unmanned jets."

Alkoni denied Tuareg were helping the ousted leader.

The NTC official leading the hunt for the Gaddafi -- who often boasts of his Bedouin heritage -- has said he is hiding near the western town of Ghadames beside the Algerian border.

Gaddafi's daughter Aisha, her brothers Hannibal and Mohammed, their mother Safia and several other family members fled to Algeria in August and have lived there since.

Another son, Saadi, is in Niger.

"They can easily roam around this area, north, west, south, east," Alkoni said, adding that Gaddafi may be criss-crossing the long and porous borders between the three countries.

NTC officials have made capturing Gaddafi and his family and putting them on trial a key priority of their efforts to take control of the whole country and prepare for elections.

British defence secretary, Liam Fox, told Reuters on Saturday that Britain was helping the NTC to track convoys of vehicles moving around Libya's deserts. (Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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