Rebels offer amnesty to loyalists for killing or capturing Gaddafi

LIBYA’S rebel council said yesterday that it was offering an amnesty to any of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s entourage who kill or capture the country’s missing leader.

Council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil added that a Benghazi businessman had offered a reward of two million Libyan dinars (£1.02 million) for Col Gaddafi’s capture.

“The National Transitional Council announces that any of his inner circle who kill Col Gaddafi or capture him, society will give amnesty or pardon for any crime he has committed,” he told a news conference.

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Col Gaddafi’s whereabouts remained a mystery last night as his grip on power continued to weaken with growing rebel gains.

Yesterday rebel leaders said they believed Col Gaddafi – who has vowed to fight to death or victory – remained hiding somewhere in the capital Tripoli.

But there are also suggestions he could have fled to parts of the country still loyal to the man who has ruled Libya for 42 years.

Two major cities remain in the hands of Col Gaddafi forces, including his home town of Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast east of Tripoli, and Sebha, deep in the desert 400 miles south of Tripoli.

Sebha is the site of a significant military and air force base. If Col Gaddafi could reach the base it would provide him with the option of easy desert escape routes into neighbouring Niger and Chad.

In a recorded address broadcast on a radio station loyal to the regime, Col Gaddafi has said that the withdrawal from his headquarters in the heart of the capital was a tactical move after it had been hit by 64 Nato air strikes.

He vowed “martyrdom” or victory in his six-month war against the Western alliance and Libyan foes.

The leader has also claimed he remains in the capital and has avoided the glare of rebel fighters. “I have been out a bit in Tripoli discreetly, without being seen by people, and… I did not feel that Tripoli was in danger,” Col Gaddafi said. But his exact location after leaving the compound – perhaps via an extensive tunnel network to adjoining districts – remains unknown.

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One rebel official backed up Col Gaddafi’s claim that he is still in Tripoli. The rebel, giving his name as Abdulrahman, said: “We think Col Gaddafi is still hiding somewhere in Tripoli. He is likely to be in the al-Hadhba al-Khadra area. There is fighting in the al-Hadhba al-Khadra area.”

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the United States believed Col Gaddafi was still in Libya.

Abdel Salam Jalloud, Col Gaddafi’s former right-hand man, yesterday said the Libyan leader believes he could return to power when Nato ends its air campaign.

Jalloud, who defected to the rebels before they overran most of Tripoli, told Al Jazeera television: “Col Gaddafi is delusional because he thinks he can disappear in Libya and, when Nato leaves, he believes he can gather his supporters.

He also said he believed Col Gaddafi was still in Tripoli. “The rebels must open the roads,” Jalloud said. “After they open the roads, he may dress in woman’s clothes and leave Tripoli for the Algerian border or Chad. He is drunk with power.”

Claims that Col Gaddafi could have fled Libya already have so far been refuted.

Earlier this week South Africa was forced to deny that it had sent planes to Libya to help Col Gaddafi escape to an undisclosed location.

Unnamed rebels have said that Col Gaddafi and some of his family were “near to the Algerian border”.

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But the problem is that even after they seized his compound in Tripoli, the rebels know Col Gaddafi has plenty of places to hide.

He is known to have deep bunkers under his Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli and some former officials say the stronghold is connected by long tunnels to far-flung parts of Tripoli in a hidden network that would provide a quick escape route.

Few have seen the tunnels and it is not certain they exist. But the reported “underground city” fits in with the aura that Col Gaddafi has cultivated – a mix of subterfuge, rumour and myth that keep Libya’s people guessing and his opponents confused.

During the last six months where rebels have risen up against him, Col Gaddafi has made a habit of making sudden appearances in public and then vanishing almost as quickly.

Some have remained convinced he is still holed up somewhere in his sprawling compound. The whereabouts of two of Col Gaddafi’s sons who command elite units – Khamis and Muatassim – are also unknown.

One senior official, Fathi al-Baja, said there were reports Col Gaddafi, who is almost 70, had suffered a heart attack and was bedridden.

But when the rebels overran the compound on Tuesday, they found no sign of Col Gaddafi and it was not known if he was there and escaped or if he was never there at all.

“There are so many rat holes in Tripoli. We are searching for him in the holes,” said Col Ahmed Bani, a rebel military spokesman.

But the rebels know that as long as Col Gaddafi remains at large, he holds the potential to strike back and they can only claim true victory once he has been captured.

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