TRIPOLI, Libya — Members of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s family were reported Monday to have arrived in Algeria, a neighbor Libyan rebels have accused of supporting the ousted regime.
The report cited Algeria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry as saying the family entered the neighboring country
on Monday. It did not immediately provide additional details or say whether Gadhafi himself was with the family.
The report came as battles raged on two sides of Sirte, the southern city that is the headquarters of Gadhafi’s tribe and his regime’s last major bastion. The rebels were consolida
ting control of Tripoli, the capital.
Despite effectively ending his rule, the rebels have yet to find Gadhafi or his family members — something that has cast a pall of lingering uncertainty over the opposition’s victory.
The Egyptian news agency MENA, quoting unidentified rebel fighters, had reported from Tripoli over the weekend that six armored Mercedes sedans, possibly carrying Gadhafi’s sons or other top regime figures, had crossed the border at the southwestern Libyan town of Ghadamis into Algeria. Algeria’s Foreign Ministry had denied that report.
Ahmed Jibril, an aide to rebel National Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said if the report of Ghadafi relatives in Algeria is true, “we will demand that Algerian authorities hand them over to Libya to be tried before Libyan courts.”
Ahmed Bani, military spokesman of the council, said he was not surprised to hear Algeria had welcomed Gadhafi relatives. Throughout the six-month Libyan uprising, rebels have accused Algeria of providing Gadhafi with mercenaries to curb the revolution.
Earlier Monday, Abdul-Jalil told senior NATO envoys meeting in the Gulf Arab nation of Qatar that Gadhafi can still cause trouble.
“Gadhafi is still capable of doing something awful in the last moments,” Abdul-Jalil told military chiefs of staff and other key defense officials from NATO nations including France, Italy and Turkey.
“Even after the fighting ends, we still need logistical and military support from NATO,” he added. NATO has been bombing Gadhafi’s forces since March under a United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians.
Rebels appear to have secured the capital after a week of fierce fighting in which they captured Gadhafi’s compound and then cleared loyalists holed up in the residential neighborhood of Abu Salim nearby.
In Tripoli Monday, the brother of the Libyan man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing said Abdel Baset al-Megrahi should not be returned to prison in the West because he is “between life and death” at his family’s home in the capital.
New York senators on Aug. 22 asked the Libyan rebels’ transitional government to hold al-Megrahi fully accountable for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people. Rebel leaders have said they will not extradite him.
The Scottish government released al-Megrahi in 2009, believing he would soon die of cancer. He was greeted as a hero in Libya.
Outside Tripoli, Sirte is still a bastion of support and some have even speculated Gadhafi may have fled there. Rebels have been converging from the east and west on Sirte, 250 miles east of Tripoli, preparing to battle Gadhafi loyalists.
A NATO officer who could not be identified due to alliance rules spoke of fighting 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Sirte. He said the regions of Sirte, Bani Walid south of Misrata and Sebha further south are conflict areas where both anti-Gadhafi and pro-Gadhafi forces continue to operate.
However, no fighting in Sirte itself has been reported yet and rebel leaders say they are trying to negotiate a peaceful surrender with local tribes to avoid further bloodshed.
Rebels say they want to take Gadhafi alive so they can try him in Libya.
In the capital, members of the National Transitional Council announced further steps to becoming an effective government. Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi, the rebels’ deputy military chief, announced the formation of a 17-member committee to represent the 30 or local military councils he said had been set up in the country’s west.
The war was fought by disparate, local groups with only loose coordination. Bringing all local councils and rebel brigades under the council’s leadership remains a challenge.
The rebel leadership, based in Benghazi throughout the war, has started to move to Tripoli. France said Monday it was dispatching a team of diplomats to reopen the French embassy there and see how France can aid the city.
The European Union also was seizing a foothold in Tripoli. Kristalina Georgieva, European commissioner for international aid, said Monday the EU has opened a humanitarian office to help distribute medical and other emergency aid in the Libyan capital.
Businesspeople are in step with diplomats.
Italian oil giant Eni SpA said Monday it signed a memorandum with Libya’s rebels to restart a key natural gas pipeline and provide technical assessment of the country’s oil infrastructure in hopes of quickly restarting its operations here. Eni was the largest foreign producer in Libya before the civil war broke out, and its operations, like Libya’s oil sector in general, stopped because of the fighting.
The chairman of the African Union on Monday accused Libyan rebels of indiscriminately killing black people because they have confused innocent migrant workers with Gadhafi’s mercenaries. Jean Ping, speaking to reporters in Ethiopia, added this is one of the reasons the AU is refusing to recognize the National Transitional Council as Libya’s interim government.
Ping did not elaborate his charges, which are much stronger than any that have been levied at the rebels by international rights groups. The groups have, however, expressed concern about beatings and detentions of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Gadhafi had recruited fighters from further south on the continent, but many sub-Saharan Africans are in the country as laborers.
National Transitional Council spokesman Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga denied the AU claims.
“These allegations have been made during the early days of the revolution. This never took place.”
African leaders’ skepticism about the rebels has led to questions about those who received money and arms from Gadhafi in past decades were now repaying him with support. African leaders have insisted they simply do not support regime change by force.
Survivors and human rights groups have said Gadhafi loyalists retreating from Tripoli after decades of brutal rule killed scores of detainees and arbitrarily shot civilians over the past week.
Council spokesman Ghoga said his representatives have collected names in cities rebels have liberated, resulting in a list of some 50,000 people rounded up by the Gadhafi regime since the uprising began six months ago. He said rebels freed 10,000 from prisons, leaving at least 40,000 unaccounted for.