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Gadhafi's hiding place remains speculative

TRIPOLI, Libya -- An official of the governing council said yesterday he believes Moammar Gadhafi is hiding in the southwestern desert near the borders with Niger and Algeria, but denied allegations that the Tuareg minority ethnic group is protecting the fugitive leader.

Moussa al-Kouni, a Tuareg representative on the revolution's leadership body, claimed Gadhafi had sent his son Khamis to the area to set up a radio station and make preparations for a possible escape route two months before Tripoli fell in late August.

Al-Kouni said he based his assertion on the fact the Gadhafi regime had used the area before, its rough terrain and porous borders making detection difficult. He also pointed out that Gadhafi had cultivated close ties with the Niger government.

"As far as I am aware, Gadhafi is in that region . . . on the border with Niger," he told reporters in Tripoli, adding that Gadhafi could get safe passage through Niger to Mali, where he allegedly has a house in Tombouctou. Niger has put Gadhafi's son al-Saadi under house arrest.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters raised their tricolor flag yesterday over Sirte's Ouagadougou Convention Center, which had been used by loyalists as a base, but fighting surged elsewhere in the fugitive leader's hometown. -- AP

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