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A rebel fighter packs his bed at a checkpoint 80km from Misrata. Sergey Ponomarev/AP

Libya demands return of Gaddafi family - and issues deadline for surrender

Rebel leaders want Gaddafi’s wife and three children to be returned by Algeria, where they fled yesterday.

LIBYA’S REBEL LEADERS are demanding that Algeria return Muammar Gaddafi’s wife and three of his children for trial, raising tensions between the neighbouring countries – and issued a deadline for the surrender of loyalist forces.

Rebels have ordered a ceasefire for the Eid festival, which marks the end of Ramadan, but have said that they will storm the last pro-Gaddafi town of Sirte when the festival ends on Saturday if a surrender has not been offered.

The insistence came as a member of the rebel government, Mahmoud Shammam, described Algeria’s decision to host members of the Gaddafi clan as an “aggressive act against the Libyan people’s wish”.

Safiya Gaddafi, her daughter Aisha and sons Hannibal and Mohammed entered Algeria yesterday, while Gaddafi and several other sons remain at large. Rebels also said another Gaddafi son, Khamis, was probably killed last week in a battle south of Tripoli.

“We are determined to arrest and try the whole Gaddafi family, including Gaddafi himself,” Shammam said late last night. “We’d like to see those people coming back to Libya.”

Rebel leaders said they were not surprised to hear that Algeria had welcomed Gaddafi’s family. Throughout Libya’s six-month uprising, rebels have accused Algeria of providing Gaddafi with mercenaries to repress the revolt.

The departure of Gaddafi’s family was one of the strongest signs yet that the longtime leader has lost his grip on the country.

Gaddafi’s children played important roles in the country’s military and economic life. Hannibal headed the maritime transport company; Mohammed the national Olympic committee. Aisha, a lawyer, helped in the defense of toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the trial that led to his hanging.

Rebels worry that if Gaddafi is not killed or captured, he will stoke more violence.

Ceasefire for Eid

Rebel fighters backed by an escalating NATO bombing campaign are converging on Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, his last major bastion of support in largely rebel-controlled Libya, amid speculation the longtime Libyan leader might be hiding there.

NATO yesterday reported hitting 22 armed vehicles, three command and control sites, four radar installations and several other targets in the Sirte area. Other targets were hit in contested regions south of Sirte.

Sirte, 250 miles east of Tripoli, is heavily militarised and shows no signs yet of surrendering. Rebels say they are trying to negotiate a takeover to avoid raging battles in the streets of the city, whose entrances are reportedly mined.

Today about a dozen armoured, gun-mounted trucks were parked at a staging ground in barren desert some 90 miles west of the city. A highway overpass provided some shade for rebels, most dressed in T-shirts and camouflage pants.

Ismail Shallouf, a rebel commander at the staging ground, said patrols have gone 30 miles closer to Sirte, and occasionally exchanged fire with Gaddafi fighters.

“The leadership told us to wait for now,” Shallouf said. “We don’t have any information about the negotiations. Maybe there will be an assault after Eid,” the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Libyan rebels can’t find ‘up to 50,000′ political prisoners >

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