WANTED dead or alive – a bounty of $US 1.5 million has been put on the head of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Libya’s rebels yesterday offered the reward because the tracking down of Gaddafi remains one of the few obstacles to them taking full control of Libya.
They said they would also offer amnesty to anyone who brought in Gaddafi they would not be tried for any past crimes or associations with the Gaddafi regime.
As the net closed around Gaddafi, fierce gun battles raged in parts of the capital, Tripoli, a contrast to the scenes of euphoria only the day before when the rebels stormed Gaddafi’s compound.
Gaddafi militia took up positions on rooftops of buildings in some parts of the city and shot at rebels below, leading to gun battles.
The snipers even shot mortars and Grad missiles into the grounds of the Bab Al-Aziziya compound now controlled by the rebels.
Rebels claimed more than 400 people had been killed and 2000 injured in the week-long battle for Tripoli.
With the rising number of casualties, hospitals are rapidly running out of basic supplies.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi loyalists yesterday released 36 foreign media who had been effectively imprisoned in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli.
The US also pledged to “unfreeze” Libyan assets which had been frozen in recent months as part of sanctions against Libya.
While many countries have recognised the rebel-led Transitional National Council as the official leadership of Libya, Gaddafi could still draw on support from many governments for exile.
According to the rebels, who claim to control 90-95 per cent of the country, Gaddafi may have headed for the desert in the south of Libya where borders are porous and easily breached.
“Muammar Gaddafi has only three choices: the desert Al-Jufrah region, the Traghen oasis in the deep south on the border with Niger, or Sirte, his hometown,” said Abdel Moneim al-Huni, the rebel National Transitional Council’s envoy to the Cairo-based Arab League.
Gaddafi was reputedly born on June 7, 1942, in a Bedouin tent in the desert near the Mediterranean town of Sirte some 450 kilometres east of Tripoli.
He may have sought a safety there among his Gaddadfa tribe, which is well armed and in command of the region.
Rebels have been trying to negotiate with tribal chiefs for permission to enter Sirte, a port known since antiquity where Gaddafi last year hosted an Arab summit.
If Gaddafi cannot find refuge among his own people, he may turn to other tribes, including the Tuareg of the Sahara, whom he allowed for years to carry out transborder trade in exchange for stability in the region.
But some Tuareg have joined the ranks of the rebels, opening up a front in the deep south strategic region of Fezzan near the borders with Niger, Chad and Algeria.
Beyond the hot sand of the desolate southern desert, Gaddafi may also seek refuge across the border in Algeria, which never condemned Gaddafi in six months of uprising.
Media reports have suggested Gaddafi may travel to South Africa, claiming the country had sent planes to whisk away the longtime ruler and his family.
South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, however, has rubbished the claims.
“Nobody has asked for asylum in South Africa, and as far as Johannesburg is aware, Gaddafi remains in Libya,” she said on Monday.
On another continent, Gaddafi could also turn to his friend and ally Hugo Chavez, a staunch supporter in the face of almost universal condemnation by countries around the world.
On Tuesday, as Gaddafi’s compound fell to the rebels, the Venezuelan leader proclaimed his unflinching support saying that in Libya there is “only one government, the one led by Muammar Gaddafi.”
Chavez, Gaddafi main supporter in Latin America, has consistently denounced the months-long NATO-led military operation in Libya as an oil grab by Western powers.
Ecuador, a Venezuelan ally, took a parallel diplomatic tack on Tuesday slamming what it called a NATO invasion of Libya,a position also echoed by Iran.
Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole said on Wednesday his country would be open to receiving Gaddafi.
“If that is his wish, why not?”, the minister said. “… if it were the guide Gaddafi wish to seek refuge in Burkina Faso … we would do what it takes,” he said.
Nicaragua said on Tuesday that it too, may act as a host.
“If someone were to request asylum we would have to give a positive answer because (Nicaraguan) people were granted asylum when people were being murdered by (Nicaragua’s Anasatasio) Somoza dictatorship,” Bayardo Arce, President Daniel Ortega’s adviser for economic affairs, said without mentioning Gaddafi by name.
Ortega has been a vocal supporter of the Libyan leader, recently calling him a “brother” and “friend.”