Tripoli, Libya – As Interpol issued arrest warrants for the former Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and two others on Friday, reports came from Niger of a new convoy of high-ranking Libyan officials arriving across the desert.
In Lyon, France, Interpol said in a statement that it had issued so-called red notices calling for the arrests of Colonel Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam and Abdullah al-Senussi, the chief of the former leader’s intelligence agency.
There was no suggestion that Colonel Qaddafi or the two other wanted men were known to be among those who arrived in the latest convoy to Niger. The country has been under intense international pressure to turn over any former officials of the Qaddafi government who arrive there.
On Friday, an official in Niger said that the government would respect the Interpol notices and hand over the fugitives should they cross the border, Reuters reported.
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Despite an international manhunt, the whereabouts of Libya’s top officials have been uncertain since rebels took the capital, Tripoli, last month. Since then, Colonel Qaddafi and his son have taunted the transitional rebel government in audio messages and urged their loyalists to continue fighting.
In the desert town of Bani Walid, among the last strongholds of support for Colonel Qaddafi, fighters lobbed mortar shells and fired rockets on Friday as a deadline for their peaceful surrender was set to expire Saturday. There were no reports of casualties. Rebel negotiators have so far been unable to end the standoff, raising the prospect of a battle there over the weekend.
The Interpol notices, which were requested by the International Criminal Court at The Hague based on allegations of war crimes committed by the three men, require any of Interpol’s 188 member nations to arrest the suspects and turn them over to the court.
Among the member nations is Niger, which borders Libya on the south and has received a number of convoys of loyalist officials fleeing overland. So far, no high-ranking figures in the former government have been confirmed to be accompanying them.
On Friday, 14 loyalist officials arrived in the northern Niger city of Agadez, including Gen. Ali Kana, who is said to be a Tuareg in charge of Colonel Qaddafi’s southern troops, according to a Reuters report. Tuareg tribesmen, who live on both sides of the Libya-Niger border in the Sahara, have been major supporters of the Qaddafi government.
The group also included another general, Ali Sharif al-Rifi, the commander of the Libyan air force, and two other top officials, who were said to be staying at the Etoile du Ténéré hotel in Agadez, according to the report. Colonel Qaddafi is thought to own the hotel.
Colonel Qaddafi “is a fugitive whose country of nationality and the International Criminal Court want arrested and held accountable for the serious criminal charges that have been brought against him,” said Interpol’s secretary general, Ronald K. Noble, in a written statement. “Interpol will cooperate with and assist the ICC and Libyan authorities represented by the interim Transitional National Council of Libya” to apprehend him.
Arresting Colonel Qaddafi “is a matter of time,” the Interpol statement quoted the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, as saying. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo had requested the Interpol action on Thursday.
Two of Colonel Qaddafi’s sons and his second wife fled to Algeria, which granted them asylum on humanitarian grounds, leading to vigorous criticism from Libyan rebel leaders. Algeria is also one of Interpol’s member countries, as are all of Libya’s neighbors.
On Thursday, Colonel Qaddafi issued an audio statement to a Syrian television station denying that he had left Libya, and scoffing at news of convoys crossing the desert to Niger, saying such traffic was normal between the two countries.