Libyan rebels captured the Ras Jdir border post on the frontier with Tunisia, which it was feared Muammar Qaddafi might use to escape, as the hunt for the fugitive strongman continued yesterday.
While fighting was still under way on various fronts, with the insurgents working to consolidate their hold on Tripoli, focus turned to a post-Qaddafi 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 and raised their flag.
As one potential escape route for Qaddafi was closed off, Egyptian state news agency MENA quoted a rebel source as saying a motorcade of six armored cars that could be carrying Libyan officials, even Qaddafi, crossed into Algeria.
The source was quoted as saying the column of vehicles 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 Qaddafi and his sons,” the source said.
Algeria declined to recognize the National Transitional Council (NTC) on Friday, insisting it would adhere to the policy of “strict neutrality” adopted since the start of the conflict.
A foreign ministry statement was the first official comment from Algiers since the NTC took control of the capital in neighboring Libya, even as other countries in the region have been quick to endorse the rebels.
The rebels want to find Qaddafi so they can proclaim final victory in an uprising that began six months ago and was all but crushed by government forces before NATO warplanes gave crucial air support.
As insurgent leaders moved into Tripoli to begin a political transition, the AU called on Friday for that process to be “inclusive,” while the UN human rights chief warned against assassinating Qaddafi, who has a US$1.7 million rebel price on his head.
Speculation that Qaddafi 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 [Qaddafi] 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.”
On Thursday, the NTC moved many of its top figures to the capital, just days after rebel fighters overran Tripoli and captured Qaddafi’s headquarters.
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.