TUNIS (Reuters) - Seventeen foreign “mercenaries,” including French and British personnel, have been captured, are being questioned in Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold, Bani Walid, and will be shown publicly soon, Gaddafi’s spokesman said on Tuesday.
“I talked to the guys who captured them and they assured me they will be treated very well and they are being held in a very secure and safe place,” Moussa Ibrahim told Reuters by telephone. “When the time is right, they will produce them.”
Ibrahim told Syria-based Arrai TV on Saturday that the men, who he said had been captured in the desert town -- under attack by provisional government forces -- were mostly French, two were English, one was “Asian” and one Qatari.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Monday that France had no mercenaries in Libya.
NATO, French and British officials denied on Saturday a report by Arrai TV that Gaddafi loyalists had captured some NATO troops.
Ibrahim said the men were being questioned in Bani Walid by pro-Gaddafi officers in an effort to find out why they were in Libya and would then be shown “to the world.”
It was not possible to verify Ibrahim’s claims because there are no journalists inside Bani Walid.
GADDAFI WILL FIGHT “FOR YEARS”
Ibrahim also repeated that the ousted leader was in “good health” and “high spirits” and said he was willing to fight the new government’s forces for years.
“This fight could take years. He’s prepared for that because this land is ours,” Ibrahim said. “What country did NATO ever attack and it could finish it in a few months time? Look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia. We have enough arms.”
Ibrahim did not reveal his or Gaddafi’s location during the call, though he told Reuters last week that he was moving around near Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte.
He denied recent claims by the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) that it was now in control of the airport in one of Gaddafi’s other remaining strongholds, Sabha.
“Usually, when 10 to 15 cars belonging to (the NTC) enter a city, they regard that as occupation of that city,” Ibrahim said. “But the resistance in Sabha is very strong and I was talking to our people in Sabha at around 4 pm.”
Western special forces are known to have been in Libya and to have liaised with anti-Gaddafi officials during the conflict. Private security firms have also been helping anti-Gaddafi forces, according to Western media reports.
Editing by Tim Pearce