Large Libyan convoy arrives in Niger - sources

AGADEZ Tue Sep 6, 2011 6:49pm BST

AGADEZ (Reuters) - A large convoy of Libyan armoured vehicles escorted by the Nigerien military arrived in the northern Niger desert town of Agadez late on Monday, a French military source and a Niger military source told Reuters.

The convoy contained between 200 and 250 Libyan military vehicles and included officers from Libya's southern army battalions, and likely crossed from Libya into Algeria before entering Niger, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

The French military source said he had been told Muammar Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam might be considering joining the convoy en route to Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African state which has offered Gaddafi and his family asylum and has a border with Niger.

Gaddafi's entourage has been hit by numerous high-profile defections, arrests and killings since an uprising that has effectively ended his 42-year rule of the country.

The head of Muammar Gaddafi's security brigades, Mansour Dhao, along with more than 10 other Libyans, crossed into Niger on Sunday, two Niger officials said earlier on Monday.

Dhao's departure comes days after Gaddafi's wife and three of his children fled to Algeria and fighters for the ruling National Transitional Council arrested his foreign minister outside Tripoli.

The French military source said he had been told the commander of Libya's southern forces, General Ali Khana, may also be in Niger, not far from the Libyan border.

He said he had been told that Gaddafi and his son Saif would join Khana and catch up with the convoy should they choose to accept Burkina Faso's offer of exile.

Burkina Faso, a former recipient of large amounts of Libyan aid, offered Gaddafi exile about two weeks ago but has also recognised the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya's government.

Burkinabe Foreign Minister Yipene Djibril Bassolet said that Gaddafi could go into exile in his country even though it is a signatory of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged him with crimes against humanity.

Gaddafi has said he is ready to fight to the death on Libyan soil, although there have been a number of reports that he might seek refuge in an African nation.

The Niger military source said many more Libyans, including pro-Gaddafi Tuareg fighters, had also crossed the border into Niger on Monday seeking refuge.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi and Nathalie Prevost; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Michael Roddy)

(This story has been corrected in paragraph 1 to show armoured vehicles were escorted by Nigerien, not Nigerian, military)

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