Tuareg fighters escorting Qaddafi into exile?
A large convoy of about 250 armored vehicles believed to be carrying loyalists of Moammar Qaddafi has crossed into neighboring Niger, according to widespread reports. The convoy included officers from Qaddafi's army and Tuareg fighters, raising speculation that Qaddafi himself could be among them. Reuters, citing anonymous military sources from France and Niger, claims the convoy may represent a "dramatic, secretly negotiated bid" by Qaddafi" and his son Saif al-Islam to seek refuge in Burkina Faso, which has offered the ousted dictator asylum while also recognizing the National Transitional Council as Libya's new government. (AlJazeera, Atlantic Wire, Sept. 6)
Tuareg leaders in Niger and Mali are meanwhile urging countrymen who fought for Qaddafi to stay in Libya and rally to its new rulers rather than return to an unstable situation in their home countries. Ibrahim ag-Mohamed Assaleh, a parliament deputy for the northern Mali town of Bourem and head of a "contact group" of 13 prominent Tuaregs from Niger and Mali who are in touch with the NTC, noted the potential for reprisals in Libya, saying: "The NTC must be up to the task, and above all prevent score-settling." He said his group is calling on Tuareg fighters in the few remaining pro-Qaddafi strongholds such as Sabha in the southwest to lay down arms and back the NTC "without bloodshed."
Local Tuareg leaders have raised fears of Libya's stability spreading south. "We had to...set up contacts between the NTC and the Malian and Nigerien Tuaregs, to create trust so that tomorrow they don't leave with their weapons and come back to Niger and Mali," said Mohamed Anacko, head of the Agadez regional council in Niger's north. "Niger and Mali are very fragile states—they could not take such an influx because we would be talking about hundreds of thousands of people." (Reuters, Sept. 4)