A bullet-riddled portrait of Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi, who went… (Francois Mori / Associated…)
Reporting from Tripoli, Libya — Moammar Kadafi's whereabouts remained a mystery Wednesday, a day after reports of a southbound desert convoy raised suspicion that the deposed Libyan leader might be seeking sanctuary in sub-Saharan Africa.
Officials of Libya's rebel administration have given contradictory statements about Kadafi's whereabouts in recent days, a pattern that continued Wednesday. One rebel military official told the Associated Press that Kadafi was cornered, while another military aide said the rebels didn't know the ex-leader's whereabouts.
"I'm not sure anyone knows where he is," said an official of the transitional government, who asked not to be named.
Earlier in the day, officials in the neighboring nation of Niger denied that Kadafi or any of his sons had entered their country or that a large convoy had even crossed the border from Libya. Niger's foreign minister described the convoy as fewer than a dozen vehicles, not the more than 200 that other reports had cited.
Suspicion about where Kadafi might be hiding seemed to focus on Libya's vast southern desert, which shares porous borders with Niger, Chad, Algeria and Sudan. Kadafi still has many supporters in the south and he promoted a robust relationship with sub-Saharan African nations, bestowing aid liberally and cultivating the image of himself as a "guide" for the continent.
Kadafi, who ruled Libya for almost 42 years, is presumed to have fled Tripoli last month as rebel forces took the capital. He hasn't been seen in public in months, though he has been heard in several defiant audio recordings pledging resistance and calling for a guerrilla war against Libya's new rulers.
A spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, who is also in hiding, has called news organizations to assert that Kadafi remains in Libya and has no intention of leaving.
Rebel authorities say it is important to capture or kill Kadafi so that everyone knows that he is not coming back and that a new era has begun for Libya. The interim government has vowed to put him and several of his sons on trial.