TRIPOLI, Libya -- A military official said yesterday that Moammar Gadhafi is cornered and the days before he is captured or killed are numbered, but another senior defense official contended that Libya's new rulers have no idea where the fugitive former leader is.
The comments are the latest in a series of conflicting statements on the most pressing question still haunting the North African nation -- where is Gadhafi?
The ousted leader, who ruled Libya for nearly 42 years, hasn't been seen in public for months and has issued only audio messages trying to rally his supporters and lash out at his opponents. He went into hiding after opposition fighters swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21. The former rebels are still battling regime loyalists in three Gadhafi strongholds -- Bani Walid, Sabha and Sirte.
Hunting down Gadhafi would help seal the new rulers' hold on the country and probably trigger the collapse of the remaining regime loyalists still fighting the former rebels.
Anis Sharif, a spokesman for Tripoli's military council, told The Associated Press that Gadhafi was still in Libya and had been tracked using advanced technology and human intelligence. Rebel forces have taken up positions on all sides of the fugitive leader's presumed location, with none more than 40 miles away, he said, without elaborating.
"He can't get out," said Sharif, who added the former rebels are preparing to either detain him or kill him. "We are just playing games with him," he said.
Thousands of fighters have converged on areas outside Bani Walid, 90 miles southeast of Tripoli, and have threatened to attack if residents don't surrender by Saturday.
Abdullah Kenshil, negotiator for the rebels in Bani Walid, said in Wishtat that Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, appears to be one of those hiding in the area.