NIAMEY Despite his repeated pledges to stay in Libya to the death, if Muammar Gaddafi needed a quick exit, one obvious option is to discreetly slip in to Niger in the south.
There are several ways to cross into Niger from the Libyan border, across over 1000 km (600 miles) of flat barren land, sand dunes and a mountain range to get to Niger's major border town of Agadez.
The journey could take anything between two to three days, Ibrahim Mohammed, a veteran guide of the Sahara told Reuters by phone on Thursday in Niamey, Niger's capital.
Mohammed said he had led caravans and convoys across the treacherous desert for over 20 years on foot, horseback, camel and truck.
Niger's Justice Minister Marou Adamou said on Wednesday that the Sahel nation's border was porous and it was possible that more people, even those close to the Gaddafi regime, had made their way or were making their way into Niger.
Adamou was speaking after reports that a Libyan convoy of about 200 cars had crossed the Libyan border into Niger. Adamou said the reports were exaggerated and only a handful of cars had crossed into Niger, none carrying Gaddafi.
Niger and French security sources said the convoy, which included the head of Gaddafi's security detail, was met at an outpost north of the uranium mining town of Arlit and escorted by Niger's security forces.
If the convoy was met in Arlit, then it probably took the southwestern route from the Libyan border.
The crossing from Salvador pass on the Libyan border to Adrar Bous, a seasonal water point near the Air mountain range, is fraught with danger, Mohammed said.
He said the most dangerous section of the route is crossing the Tenere du Tafassasset. Tenere means desert in the language of Tuareg nomads.
"If you do not know the itinerary, it would be very dangerous to venture out there. It is very flat, with sand all over. Not even a tree or shade for miles and miles around. One can get lost easily. They will be going in circles. Many people have died there," he said.
"You need a lot of water, flour, petrol and common sense. You need common sense -- if not you will easily find yourself lost in the sand," he said.
Between 1100 am in the morning and 2 pm is the riskiest time to cross the desert because the sun is directly overhead and temperatures can rise to nearly 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), Mohammed said.
"I have experienced 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) in the shade, it is very dangerous," he said.
There are no main roads, it is very flat with a lot of tracks going in different directions, he said.
Mohammed said that accompanied by a good guide and a couple of four-wheel-drive vehicles in good condition, the crossing from the Salvador pass, navigating close to the Algerian border to Adrar Bous in the north-western part of Niger, however, was the easiest and most discreet of routes to take.
From Adrar Bous, a water point when it rains once or twice a year, it is easy to slip into the Air mountain range and remain in hiding or continue the journey to Agadez.
"You can stay in the Air mountains and do whatever you like; it would be difficult for anyone to find you. The only small town or village nearby is Iferouane, which is about 50 km from Arlit," he said.
"For someone who is on the run and need to keep a low profile, the best route if they want to make it to Agadez, would be to use the track through the Air mountains. There are caravans and nomads, there is life in the mountains with people moving around, but no one asks any questions," he said.
Mohammed said there are two other classic routes that travellers take. They could go through the Dajdo plateau or through Madama, southeast of the Libyan border, near neighbouring Chad.
Both routes lead to the town of Dirkou, continue southward to Bilma, an oasis town and from there lead through sand dunes onwards to Agadez.
(Editing by Peter Graff)