Libyan rebels take border post; hunt on for Qadhafi

TRIPOLI – Libyan rebels captured the Ras Jdir border post on the frontier with Tunisia, which it was feared Muammer Qadhafi might use to escape, as the hunt for the fugitive strongman continued on Saturday.

While fighting was still under way on various fronts, with the insurgents working to consolidate their hold on Tripoli, focus increasingly turned to a post-Qadhafi era, with calls for reconciliation and a peaceful transition.

The rebels claimed late on Friday a new military success with the capture of Ras Jdir.

A Tunisian official said loyalists fled as more than 100 rebels arrived.

"There were not any real clashes; the loyalists took off and the rebels' flag was raised at the border post."

As one potential escape route for Qadhafi was closed off, Egyptian state news agency MENA quoted a rebel source as saying a motorcade of six armoured cars that could be carrying Libyan officials, even Qadhafi, had crossed into Algeria.

The source was quoted as saying the column of Mercedes had been escorted by pro-government troops until it entered the town of Ghadames in Algeria. Rebels had not been able to pursue them as they lacked munitions and equipment.

"We think they (the cars) were carrying high Libyan officials, possibly Qadhafi and his sons," the source said.

Algeria declined to recognise the NTC on Friday, insisting it would adhere to the policy of "strict neutrality" adopted since the start of the conflict.

The rebels want to find Qadhafi so they can proclaim final victory in an uprising that began six months ago.

As insurgent leaders moved into Tripoli to begin a political transition, the African Union called Friday for that process to be "inclusive", while the UN human rights chief warned against assassinating Qadhafi, who has a US$1.7 million rebel price on his head.

Speculation that Qadhafi might have found refuge in his hometown of Sirte, 360km east of Tripoli, has not been confirmed.

British warplanes had bombed a headquarters bunker there on Thursday night.

Regime forces in Sirte have been regularly targeted since the start of the campaign, an official said, but now "it's one of the last places he (Qadhafi) has control of".

"It has always been a stronghold of the regime and now the remnants of the regime are using it to launch attacks," the official said.

"This is an extremely desperate and dangerous remnant of a former regime and they are obviously desperately trying to disrupt the fact that the Libyan people have started to take responsibility for their own country."

The capital itself was calm on Saturday morning after a night of isolated explosions and small-arms fire in different parts of the city, an AFP correspondent said.

After several days of intense combat, the remaining Qadhafi forces seem to have opted for guerrilla tactics, striking in small groups to keep tensions high and then withdrawing.

A rebel chief, Abdel Hamid Agleou, said "we don't know where Qadhafi's men are hiding."

NTC official Ali Tarhuni said their leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, would arrive as soon as the security situation permitted.

Abdel Nagib Mlegta, head of operations for the takeover of the capital, said on Friday his fighters now controlled 95 percent of Tripoli, with just a few pockets of resistance left.

He said they hoped to control Tripoli fully and capture Qadhafi within 72 hours.

The AFP correspondent said there were still pockets of resistance in the pro-Qadhafi Abu Slim neighbourhood, which has been the scene of heavy fighting this week, and in the Salah al-Din quarter.

And the airport, controlled by the rebels, was still being targeted by sporadic shooting and shelling.

Mlegta alleged that forces loyal to Qadhafi killed more than 150 prisoners with grenades in a "mass murder" as they fled the rebel takeover.

But Amnesty International said Friday that both sides had been guilty of abuses.

The United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union urged both sides in Libya to avoid reprisals, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said after talks of the so-called Cairo Group.

"Colonel Qadhafi must avoid further bloodshed by relinquishing power and calling on those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms and protect civilians," she said.

She added: "Today, under UN leadership, we agreed to call on all parties to respect international humanitarian and international human rights obligations. There should be no reprisals."

Ashton said after a video conference that the Cairo Group, which also includes the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, "emphasised that the transition in Libya should be Libyan-led and inclusive."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said after the talks, which he chaired, that an international police force may need to be sent to Libya, which is "awash" with small arms.

In Geneva, the UN human rights chief warned bounty hunters who may be seeking to kill Qadhafi, with spokesman Rupert Colville saying assassinations are "not within the rule of law".

The African Union declined Friday to recognize the NTC and instead called for the formation of an all-inclusive transitional government.

South African President Jacob Zuma said after an AU meeting in Addis Ababa that the rebels were not yet legitimate.

With fighting continuing in a conflict that the NTC chief says has killed more than 20,000 people, the horror of the situation was highlighted at a hospital in Tripoli.

Eighty putrefying corpses lay around, apparently patients who died for lack of treatment because doctors had fled for fear of the pro-Qadhafi snipers in the neighborhood.

Only 17 survived and were evacuated Friday by the Red Cross.

As the rebels worked to consolidate their gains politically, they were still desperately in need of funding.

NTC number two Mahmud Jibril said in Istanbul on Friday it was essential that the West release all of Libya's frozen assets for the success of the new government to be established after the Qadhafi regime."

On Thursday, senior diplomats of the Libya Contact Group agreed to speed up release of some US$2.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets by the middle of next week.

At the same time, the UN Security Council released US$1.5 billion of seized assets to be used for emergency aid. "The money will be moving within days," a US diplomat said.

Egypt's MENA news agency said Jibril arrived Friday in Cairo ahead of a special meeting of the Arab League that would see the NTC take over Libya's seat from Qadhafi's regime, suspended in February after the conflict began.

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