McCain arrives in Libya as rival forces battle for control of last few strongholds

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — United States Sen. John McCain arrived in the Libyan capital Thursday as the new leadership battled for control of the last few strongholds loyal to ousted ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

McCain was accompanied by Sens. Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Mark Kirk. The group will meet with members of the National Transitional Council, the new leadership that toppled Gadhafi.

The group arrived on the same day that Interpol issued a Red Notice for the arrest of Saadi Gadhafi, one of Gadhafi’s sons, for allegedly taking property through force and intimidation while serving as the head of the Libyan Football Federation.

A Red Notice allows Interpol, the international police agency, to widely circulate an arrest warrant with the intention of extraditing a suspect.

Earlier this month, Saadi Gadhafi fled to Niger, where he was granted safe haven on humanitarian grounds.

Niger has refused to heed the demand of Libya’s interim government that it hand over regime officials who had fled there. Niger believes Saadi and other loyalists who have taken refuge there could face the death penalty if returned to Libya.

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Interpol issued similar arrest warrants this month for the ousted Libyan leader and another of his sons, Saif al-Islam. Both are wanted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands, for alleged crimes against humanity committed after the start of the uprising in February.

The Red Notice arrest warrant was issued as new reports surfaced over the possible whereabouts of Gadhafi and two of his sons, Saif al-Islam and Mutassim.

“We have reliable information that Gadhafi is protected by the Tuareg tribe located between Niger, Algeria and Ghadamis town in Libya,” Col. Abdul Basit, an interim government military spokesman, told CNN.

He said Saif al-Islam is in Bani Walid and Mutassim is in Sirte.

Both Bani Walid — home to a powerful tribe loyal to Gadhafi — and Sirte have been the scene of fierce fighting as troops attempt to wrest control from Gadhafi loyalists.

The accuracy of attacks in and around Bani Walid have prompted allegations by at least one military field commander of possible infiltration by Gadhafi loyalists.

“There are spies among our revolutionaries who send our coordinates to the snipers and Gadhafi loyalists firing from inside Bani Walid, and the proof is that their attacks have been precisely targeted,” said Emad Ziglam, a field commander of the Tripoli troops fighting outside Bani Walid.

“The mistake was mixing the rebel units. We should not have allowed fighters from Benghazi among others to join in, since we do not know them all. There are definitely traitors among us.”

Division among the ranks of anti-Gadhafi fighters is not unusual. There have been a number of reports during the months-long war of infighting and arguments among troops, raising concerns about a lack of discipline and leadership among the ragtag group of fighters and the possible threat such issues could pose to the country’s stability

Neither side appeared to be making headway in Bani Walid, Ziglam told CNN.

He described the humanitarian situation in Bani Walid as “really bad” and said 30,000 of the city’s residents had fled toward Tripoli and 12,000 toward Sabha, in the south.

Thousands of people have fled the fighting in Sirte, the birthplace of Gadhafi, where the ousted leader retains a following. The National Transitional Council said that about 100 families left the city Wednesday.

It also said Sirte was surrounded by revolutionary fighters but estimated that about 5,000 pro-Gadhafi fighters remained within the city.

Transitional council military commanders said its forces would wait a few days before launching any major offensive against the city in order to give civilians there more time to leave.

NATO estimates that 200,000 of Libya’s 6 million people are still under threat from Gadhafi’s supporters.

Gadhafi has not been seen in public since the fall of Tripoli.

Basit, the military spokesman, did not say how the interim government discovered Gadhafi’s putative whereabouts, and his assertions could not be verified. The National Transitional Council has made a number of claims about the whereabouts of Gadhafi that have later proved to be false.

Ghadamis is in western Libya, on the border with Algeria. Tuareg tribesmen have helped Gadhafi loyalists escape Libya across the expanses of the Sahel.

During his rule, Gadhafi often turned to the nomadic Tuareg to bolster his forces and his attempts to manipulate and destabilize the poor countries to the south of Libya: Niger, Chad and Mali.

CNN’s Mohamed Fahmy contributed to this report.

Source Blucigs


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