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Gaddafi's son seeks asylum in Niger

A son of Muammar Gaddafi and three of his generals are trying to gain political asylum in the poor, landlocked nation of Niger, after a 1,000 mile-plus drive across the vast desert that separates the two countries.

The generals are trying to pave the way for other Gaddafi supporters to follow, but one regime loyalist doubted that Gaddafi himself ever would, saying he would be comfortable enough living in the Sahara to stay there indefinitely.

"I know the Guide well, and what people don't realise is that he could last in the desert for years," Aghaly Alambo said, referring to Gaddafi.

"He didn't need to create a hiding place. He likes the simple life, under a tent, sitting on the sand, drinking camel's milk. His advantage is that this was already his preferred lifestyle. He is guarded by a special mobile unit made up of members of his family. Those are the only people he trusts."

Convoys carrying regime loyalists began arriving in Niger last week. The three generals, including the head of Gaddafi's air force and two of his regional commanders, reached Niamey, the capital, overnight on Monday. They were joined on Tuesday by al-Saadi Gaddafi, government spokesman Marou Amadou said.

Alambo, a rebel leader from Niger who fought for Gaddafi and who led the first convoy across the desert, said the commanders were pushed to leave Libya after a total breakdown in communication with the ex-ruler.

Gaddafi was last in contact with his military leaders three and a half weeks ago and his whereabouts were not known, he said. "It's been difficult because for some time now, there's been no communication in Libya - especially with our Guide. Maybe it's for his own safety. But for those of us in his entourage it's very difficult to know where he is? How he is? What is happening?" Alambo said at his home on the edge of Niamey.

The regime that Gaddafi tightly controlled for nearly 42 years unravelled once he was forced into hiding and no longer in touch with his field officers. Government officials say around 30 Libyan nationals including members of the fallen regime and their families are now in Niger.

Alambo, a member of the Tuareg ethnic group who became close to Gaddafi and is believed to have helped recruit dozens of Tuareg youths to fight during Libya's civil war, blamed last month's fall of Tripoli, the turning point of the civil war, on a betrayal by one of Gaddafi's trusted commanders. He said the head of security for Tripoli had defected to the rebel camp weeks earlier, even as he continued to lead the city's defence.

Instead of fighting, the commander ordered Gaddafi's troops to withdraw when the rebels were in sight, then passed on the GPS co-ordinates of remaining loyalist positions so Nato air strikes could take them out, Alambo said. "It was at the very last minute that we realised there was no defence - there was nothing," he said.

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