Saadi Gaddafi

Tripoli – Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi was under guard in the Niger capital today after fleeing Libya over the weekend but Nato acknowledged it has no idea where his fugitive father is holed up.

The alliance stressed that the toppled strongman was not a target in the daily bombing campaign it has kept up against his remaining forces as the World Bank formally recognised Libya's new leaders and pledged to play a major role in their post-war reconstruction efforts.

Saadi Gaddafi, 38, the third of Gaddafi’s seven sons, is among 32 officials of the ousted regime, three of them top generals, who have fled through the desert to neighbouring Niger this month.

He was flown into the capital Niamey late on Tuesday after being put on an air force Hercules C-130 transport plane from the north-western town of Agadez, Nigerien officials said.

He had been put up in the governor’s residence in the desert town with eight close associates of his father after they crossed into Niger on Sunday.

Washington accepted Niamey’s assurances that Saadi, who commanded an elite army unit after a brief career as a professional footballer in Italy, was in the custody of Nigerien security forces.

“Our understanding is, like the others, he’s being detained in a state guest house,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

“It’s essentially a house arrest in this government facility, is our understanding,” she added.

Nato said it had no idea whether Gaddafi himself had also fled his country.

Colonel Roland Lavoie, spokesman for Nato's Libya mission, said the alliance had received, at “various points” in the conflict, intelligence confirming that Gaddafi was still in Libya, but that his whereabouts were now a mystery.

Gaddafi has only been heard from in audio recordings broadcast by a friendly channel, Syria-based Arrai Oruba television. And his most recent statement was read out by the channel's owner on Monday.

Lavoie stressed that it was not Nato's mission to hunt down the fugitive former strongman.

But he said Gaddafi’s options were increasingly limited as forces loyal to Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) close in on his remaining strongholds, “Essentially the area of operation of Kadhafi is shrinking.”

Lavoie said advances by rebel forces in the past two days had cut pro-Gaddafi forces in the strip of territory between his hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and the desert town of Bani Walid from those in the southern oases of Waddan and Sabha with their access to Libya’s desert border.

The NTC was on Wednesday seeking the surrender of Gaddafi diehards who have continued to mount attacks against its fighters as they move in on the enclaves, after a deadline for them to surrender expired at the weekend.

Nato said on Tuesday that its aircraft had hit 17 targets around Sirte, eight around Sabha and one around Waddan in its latest raids. – Sapa-AFP