Libya rebels seek return of fleeing Qadhafi kin

TRIPOLI – Libya's rebels were on Tuesday seeking the return from Algeria of Muammer Qadhafi's wife and three children, while hunting down the longtime Libyan strongman and closing in on his hometown Sirte.

"We'd like those persons to come back," rebels' spokesman Mahmud Shammam said after Algiers on Monday announced that Qadhafi's wife Safiya, two sons, a daughter and their children, had crossed the border into the country.

"The wife of Muammer Qadhafi, Safiya, his daughter Aisha, and sons Hannibal and Mohammed, accompanied by their children, entered Algeria at 8:45 am (0745 GMT) through the Algeria-Libyan border," the Algerian foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state APS news agency, giving no information on the whereabouts of Qadhafi himself.

The ministry said that UN chief Ban Ki-moon, the Security Council and number two leader of the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC), Mahmud Jibril, had been informed.

So far Algeria has not recognized the NTC and has adopted a stance of strict neutrality on the Libyan conflict, leading some among the rebels to accuse it of supporting the Qadhafi regime.

Shammam said Algeria had given Qadhafi's family members "a pass" to enter a third country.

"Saving Qadhafi's family is not an act we welcome and understand," he told a press conference in Tripoli.

"We can assure our neighbors that we want better relations with them…but we are determined to arrest and try the Qadhafi family and Qadhafi himself," Shammam went on, saying the rebels guaranteed a "fair trial."

Italian news agency ANSA, citing "authoritative Libyan diplomatic sources," said Qadhafi and his sons Saadi and Saif al-Islam were holed-up in the town of Bani Walid, south of the capital Tripoli.

A rebel minister said Qadhafi's youngest son Khamis, whose death has been announced several times since Libya's conflict erupted but never confirmed, may have been killed south of Tripoli and buried on Monday.

Rebel Libyan justice minister Mohammed al-Allagy told AFP that Khamis "may have been killed in battle," adding that "the rebel leader said he had been buried."

Khamis, 28, commanded a brigade seen as the most effective and loyal force of the Libyan leader.

Italy's ANSA news agency reported that Khamis had "almost certainly" been killed as he tried to make the 100 kilometre (60 mile) journey from Tripoli to Bani Walid to join his father.

Rebel chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil urged the international coalition to continue its action against the strongman.

"Qadhafi's defiance of the coalition forces still poses a danger, not only for Libya but for the world. That is why we are calling for the coalition to continue its support," Abdel Jalil said at a meeting in Doha of chiefs of staff of countries taking part in military action in Libya.

The international coalition began Operation Unified Protector on 19 March under a UN mandate which authorised air strikes to protect civilians.

Since 31 March, the air strikes have been carried out under NATO command.

Coalition military chiefs said in a joint statement that the war in Libya "is yet to end" and that "there is a need to continue the joint action until the Libyan people achieve their goal by eliminating the remnants of Qadhafi."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to visit Paris on Thursday for an international Contact Group meeting on Libya in a bid to boost financial and economic support for the rebels, the State Department said.

"Libya's transition to democracy is and should be Libyan-led, with close coordination and support between the (NTC) and its international partners," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The White House said it did not know Qadhafi's whereabouts but had no indication he had left Libya.

There had been speculation that he was among tribal supporters in his hometown Sirte, 360km east of Tripoli, where rebel forces were gradually advancing upon.

Rebels had moved to within 30km of the town from the west and captured Bin Jawad 100km to the east, the rebel commander in Misrata, Mohammed al-Fortiya, told AFP on Sunday.

On Monday, the rebels seized the desert hamlet of Nofilia just inland from the coastal road east of Sirte, an AFP correspondent reported.

"Tomorrow, God willing, we will continue our advance. Their morale is rock bottom," the commander said.

The rebels' deputy commander in chief, General Suleyman Mahmud, said talks were still going on with civic and tribal leaders to try to broker Sirte's peaceful surrender.

The rebels have offered a US$1.7 million dollar reward for Qadhafi's capture, dead or alive.

Fierce fighting also raged in the west as rebels trying to mop up resistance by loyalist forces said they were ambushed southwest of Zuwarah.

China has delayed moves by Britain, France and Germany to get a UN sanctions committee to release five billion dollars of frozen Libyan assets to buy emergency aid, diplomats said.

Iran's foreign ministry said Tuesday that Foreign Minister Ali Akabr Salehi has invited rebel chief Abdel Jalil to visit Tehran, Iran has still not officially recognized the NTC.

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