By Bakari Guèye
As members of Moamer Kadhafi’s inner circle abandon him and flee Libya, residents of the country’s southern neighbours are wondering where the one-time Libyan leader will show up next.
“There is now an international arrest warrant out for Kadhafi,” noted Mohamed Nouh, an international relations specialist in Mauritania. “Interpol issued a red notice on September 9th.”
“Kadhafi will have to flee to another of the countries in the sub-region, and Niger could be an ideal refuge for him. Besides, a number of his family members are already there on Nigerien soil,” the expert added.
But there are other possible destinations for the ousted Libyan leader. US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters last week that American officials “urged Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso to step up their work to secure their borders and apprehend any Libyan officials escaping the country”.
The statement came amid reports that a convoy of cars crossed the Niger-Libya border on September 8th, suspected of carrying officers and top-ranking officials from the deposed Kadhafi regime.
Niger, which has officially recognised the National Transitional Council, has given assurances that it would honour its “commitments to international law”. According to Nigerien Prime Minister Brigi Rafini, the country is “ready to arrest any wanted pro-Kadhafis who have taken refuge” on Nigerien soil.
“Saadi Kadhafi and eight more of his father’s relatives were intercepted on September 11th in the north of Niger by Nigerien defence and security forces,” Rafini said on Monday (September 12th). Rafini confirmed that 32 senior Kadhafi officials, including three top generals, had arrived in Niger since September 2nd, AFP reported.
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In Burkina Faso, another possible destination for Kadhafi, the government spokesman denied that Kadhafi was on national territory. The spokesman said Burkinabe authorities would respond “once the person in question arrives” at the border.
“Burkina Faso recognises the NTC as the only legitimate body representing the Libyan people,” the spokesman added.
In Mauritania, the government has remained silent on the issue, but local observers have ruled out “any possibility of Kadhafi and his followers finding refuge in Mauritania”. Mauritania was once an ally of Kadhafi before President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz called for Kadhafi to step down back in June.
“The Mauritanian authorities cannot risk welcoming Kadhafi,” according to Salek Ould Elemine, a lecturer at the Faculty of Arts in Nouakchott. “He would prove a very inconvenient guest and it would not help Mauritania, which faces a major terrorist threat.”
London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported in its September 10th edition that “significant Mauritanian figures expressed unshakeable support for the deposed Colonel Moamer Kadhafi when the Libyan revolution broke out”.
Most of them have categorically denied the accusations.
“The Mauritanian government has abandoned Kadhafi since last June, when President Aziz said that Kadhafi could no longer lead Libya and that it was now necessary for him to go,” political analyst Cheikhna Ould Sidi said. “So I don’t think he’ll be seeking refuge here.”
“The Mauritanian government will never take the risk of welcoming Kadhafi,” according to Arab affairs expert Hamdi Ould Tah.