Gadhafi's son, 3 generals in Niger push for asylum

By Rukmini Callimachi

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 13 2011 6:40 p.m. MDT

Tuareg rebel chief and Gadhafi insider, Aghaly Alambo speaks to Associated Press during an interview in Niamey, Niger, Tuesday, Sept, 13. 2011. Alambo says three of Gadhafi's generals who arrived overnight in Niger's capital are seeking refugee status for members of the toppled ruler's regime. If Niger grants the request, the West African nation would be defying the new Libyan government, which wants regime loyalists to be turned over.

Sunday Alamba, Associated Press

NIAMEY, Niger — A son of Moammar Gadhafi and three of his generals were trying to gain political asylum Wednesday in this poor, landlocked nation at Libya's feet, after driving more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across the vast desert border the two countries for what could be their only shot at refuge.

The generals are trying to pave the way for other Gadhafi supporters to follow, but one regime loyalist doubted that Gadhafi himself ever will, saying he would be comfortable enough living in the Sahara to stay there indefinitely.

"I know the Guide well, and what people don't realize is that he could last in the desert for years," Aghaly Alambo said. "He didn't need to create a hiding place. He likes the simple life, under a tent, sitting on the sand, drinking camel's milk. His advantage is that this was already his preferred lifestyle."

He added, "He is guarded by a special mobile unit made up of members of his family. Those are the only people he trusts."

Convoys carrying regime loyalists began arriving in Niger last week. The three generals, including the head of Gadhafi's air force and two of his regional commanders, reached Niamey, the capital, overnight Monday. They were joined Tuesday by al-Saadi Gadhafi, government spokesman Marou Amadou confirmed shortly after midnight on Wednesday.

Alambo, a rebel leader from Niger who fought for Gadhafi and who led the first convoy across the desert, said the commanders were pushed to leave Libya after a total breakdown in communication with the ex-ruler. Gadhafi was last in contact with his military leaders 3½ weeks ago and his whereabouts are not known, he said.

"It's been difficult because for some time now, there's been no communication in Libya — especially with our Guide. Maybe it's for his own safety. But for those of us in his entourage it's very difficult to know where he is? How he is? What is happening?" Alambo said at his home on the edge of this arid capital. "This has created a source of destabilization for his entourage."

The regime that Gadhafi tightly controlled for nearly 42 years unraveled once he was forced into hiding and no longer in touch with his field officers. Government officials say around 30 members of the fallen regime and their families are now in Niger.

Alambo, a member of the Tuareg desert tribe who became close to Gadhafi and is believed to have helped recruit dozens of Tuareg youths to fight during Libya's civil war, said there is no longer any coordination between the arms of the loyalist army.

He blamed last month's fall of Tripoli, the turning point of the civil war, on a betrayal by one of Gadhafi's trusted commanders. He said the head of security for Tripoli had defected to the rebel camp weeks earlier, even as he continued to lead the city's defense.

Instead of fighting, the commander ordered Gadhafi's troops to withdraw when the rebels were in sight, then passed on the GPS coordinates of remaining loyalist positions so NATO airstrikes could take them out, Alambo said. "It was at the very last minute that we realized there was no defense — there was nothing," he said.

Now, Alambo said, pro-Gadhafi forces are just hoping to save themselves.

He said members of Gadhafi's inner circle initially took cover in pro-Gadhafi bastions like Bani Walid and Sabha, but bolted for the border when they heard reports of brutal reprisal killings by former rebels, and when it became clear that Gadhafi could be in hiding for years.

Gadhafi's wife, daughter and several of his sons crossed into Algeria, prompting that country to close its border. The roads to Tunisia, Egypt, Chad and Sudan were too risky because portions are controlled by rebel forces. The only exit became Niger, through an ocean of white dunes, guided by Tuaregs like Alambo.

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