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Qaddafi Watch

Did Qaddafi flee to Niger? Libyan convoy in Niger is reminder of Sahel's close ties.

Muammar Qaddafi may not be in Niger, but he has lots of friends to Libya's south.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / September 6, 2011

Rebel fighters celebrate, as negotiations resumed between tribal elders and rebel leaders in a mosque at a checkpoint between Tarhouna and Bani Walid, Tuesday, Sept. 6. Muammar Qaddafi is determined to fight his way back to power, the toppled dictator's spokesman said Tuesday, but a large convoy of his soldiers has apparently deserted, crossing the Libyan desert into neighboring Niger.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

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The latest updates on Muammar Qaddafi and developments in Libya's war

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Armored columns containing Libyan soldiers and top allies of former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, arriving in the West African country of Niger, set off speculation today that Mr. Qaddafi may be preparing to flee the country.

Wishful thinking, perhaps. Eyewitnesses at the border and in the Nigerien capital of Niamey say that Qaddafi himself had not been seen in the convoy, although 12 senior Libyan officials including Qaddafi’s own security chief, Mansour Dao, had been sighted, along with Niger’s ethnic Tuareg rebel leader Rissa ag Boula, who had come to fight in Qaddafi’s defense.

Niger may simply be a stopover for the convoy on the way to Burkina Faso, where President Blaise Compaore – a longtime Qaddafi supporter and protégé – has reportedly offered Qaddafi asylum.

But Qaddafi’s long-standing relationship with his neighbors in the African Sahel region – including Chad, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso – make it entirely plausible that Qaddafi might seek refuge there, if and when he makes the decision to flee.

“I don’t have specific information about this convoy, but what is clear is that all the Sahelian countries had relationships with Libya and benefited from Libya, and if Burkina Faso has offered asylum, it’s likely that some of Qaddafi’s people are moving to Burkina Faso,” says Thierry Vircoulon, a Sahel expert for the International Crisis Group’s office in Nairobi, Kenya.

Qaddafi’s ties with the arid nations south of the Saharan desert go deeper than mere financial support. They extend back several decades, when several of the present leaders of Sahelian countries were still rebel leaders, desperately seeking arms, logistical support, and training. Qaddafi provided these.

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