Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Niger Will Not Close Border With Libya

Niger Will Not Close Its Border With Libya

7 September 2011

Niger's foreign minister says his country is unable to close its border with Libya to prevent fugitive Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fleeing south.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum told the BBC that Col Gaddafi had not crossed the border or asked to cross.

He said Gaddafi loyalists who have arrived in Niger's capital, Niamey, would be free to stay or move on.

Libya's transitional authorities have said they are seeking Niger's help to stop Col Gaddafi from fleeing.

Political Affairs head Fathi Baja said the National Transitional Council (NTC) had sent a delegation to Niger to discuss "securing our borders to stop any kind of infiltration of Gaddafi troops to Niger, to stop any attempt by Gaddafi or his family to escape to Niger".

Asked if Niger might close its border, Mr Bazoum said: "We have no means to close the border... It is too big and we have very, very small means for that."

He said he hoped that Col Gaddafi would not try to cross the border, but that Niger had not yet taken any decision on whether it would accept him - or whether it would hand him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) - if he did attempt to enter Niger.

The ICC is seeking the arrest of Col Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his former intelligence chief Abdullah Sanoussi.

Mr Bazoum said at least three convoys had crossed from Libya into Niger, and that none of Col Gaddafi's sons was travelling in them.

Officials in Niger have said Col Gaddafi's security chief, Mansour Daw, was among those who entered the country in the convoys over the weekend or on Monday.

"We told them that we can accept them to stay for humanitarian reasons, but they have to respect what the international law allows them to do or [does] not allow them to do," said Mr Bazoum.

He added that those who had arrived from Libya - of whom there were fewer than 20 - were free to stay in Niamey, or to continue to Burkina Faso.

There is a long established corridor across the Sahara Desert to the Libya/Niger border to Airlit and south to Agadez.

Many migrants trying to get to Europe from West Africa use this route. So have thousands of people escaping from Libya in the last couple of months.

It is also believed that some of those fighting for Col Gaddafi were from Niger. There is some support for Col Gaddafi in Niger: local groups have tried to organise pro-Gaddafi demonstrations, although turnout was fairly small.

However, Niger's government has recognised the National Transitional Council in Libya and is a new democracy.

President Mahamadou Issoufou was elected in February this year to replace a military junta. He is trying hard to convince the international community that he is a responsible leader, so he will be keen to prevent Niger getting caught up in the Libya conflict.

One can only speculate but Niger is a gateway to West Africa if you are coming across the Sahara. It is possible that the Gaddafi loyalists could be heading through Niger en route to somewhere else.

Burkina Faso - which borders Niger to the south-west - has denied reports that it had offered to welcome Col Gaddafi.

Mr Baji said the NTC would ask Niger to send any Gaddafi aides back to Libya. He also said people in the area had reported seeing gold and money in the convoys that drove to Niger.

"If that happened, we want that money back," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

Col Gaddafi's wife, two of his sons and his daughter fled to Algeria last week.

His own whereabouts remain the subject of speculation - though rebels say they believe he is still in Libya.

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance, which has been continuing to carry out air strikes in Libya, had "no information whatsoever" about Col Gaddafi's whereabouts.

A Nato spokesman, Col Roland Lavoie, told the BBC that Col Gaddafi was not a target, but Nato would continue to strike "command and control centres".

"If we have intelligence revealing that from a specific location attacks are being co-ordinated or communications are being received or sent to conduct attacks or the threat of attacks, we would take action," he said.

The NTC has been trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution to stand-offs in a handful of Libyan towns or cities still controlled by Gaddafi loyalists.

These include Bani Walid, Jufra, Sabha and Col Gaddafi's birthplace of Sirte.

The NTC has positioned forces outside Bani Walid, and says talks will continue there until a deadline on Saturday.

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