Gadhafi Family Members Flee Libya To Algeria
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We now know the location of much of Moammar Gadhafi's family. Many of them turned up in Algeria yesterday, having fled across the border, though the longtime Libyan ruler himself is still missing. NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro joins us from the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Lourdes, how'd the family reach Algeria?
LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO: Well, what we know is from the Algerian foreign ministry. Yesterday morning, two vehicles, one car, one large, sort of, bus or minivan crossed the border, that is the southern border between Libya and Algeria. The wife of Moammar Gadhafi, Safia; his daughter, Aisha, who is pregnant; sons Hannibal and Mohammed, accompanied by their children, entered Algeria and we now know that they are in the capital, Algiers.
Now what we don't know is the location of the other members of Moammar Gadhafi's family, like Saif al-Islam, like, Mutassim. These are two senior sons who helped him organize the crushing of this rebellion. And of course, Moammar Gadhafi himself, we don't know where he is. But it is significant that his family has fled this country, and it is a sign, I think, that the Gadhafi regime is basically on its last legs.
INSKEEP: I'm trying to picture this on a map. If you flee out of Tripoli, the capital, and go directly west you end up in Tunisia, but the border crossing there, of course, is held by rebels. To get to Algeria you'd have to head southwest across the desert. Would that put the Gadhafis through territory that his loyalists still control?
GARCIA NAVARRO: That's exactly right. I mean the south of the country is still very much in loyalist hands. It's very important because, frankly, the south of the country is a very large area, it's very barren, and it has a town called Sebha and has always been a Gadhafi stronghold. There is speculation that Gadhafi himself could be in Sebha or in his hometown of Sirte which rebels now have encircled and they say that they're going to enter if negotiations fail to have it handed over peacefully.
But the south of the country is completely not under the rebels' hands, and you see that playing out in interesting ways. For example, I'm sure you've heard there's a water crisis in the capital Tripoli at the moment, and one of the reasons there is a water crisis is because the main water plant is located in the south of the country, hundreds of kilometers away from here. And what we are told by rebel officials is that Gadhafi supporters went in, took over this plant, turned off the power, and now the rebels haven't been able to get down there in order to switch it back on. So ergo, you have no water in the capital Tripoli.
INSKEEP: This brings to mind, well, things like Afghanistan where a leader was defeated and disappeared, but was able to continue the fight for years, in fact, up until today. I suppose that's one possibility that people in Libya would like to avoid if they can.
GARCIA NAVARRO: I think that's the biggest fear of everyone here - not only the citizens of this country, but certainly the rebel leadership. I was speaking to one of the members of the council yesterday and he said we have to find Gadhafi and his sons because this is one of our most important priorities. He can continue to cause problems. People don't feel safe with him still at large. He can continue to fund his loyalists to cause problems here. And so, there is a real sense that unless Gadhafi is killed or captured, nothing here can really move forward in the way that they want it to. So it's really a top priority, and the rebel government here is furious at Algeria. They have said that it is an act of aggression to have harbored Gadhafi's family, and they say that they want them extradited back to this country.
INSKEEP: NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro is in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Lourdes, thanks very much.
GARCIA NAVARRO: You're welcome.
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