(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Muammar Qadhafi's wife and three of his children fled Libya to neighbouring Algeria on Monday, firm evidence that the long-time leader has lost his grip on the country.
There was no indication that Qadhafi himself or his son and one-time heir apparent Seif Al Islam had left the country, however, something that the rebels worry will stoke more violence.
The rebels also said Monday that one of Qadhafi's other sons, military commander Khamis, might have been killed in battle.
The Algerian foreign ministry said in a statement that Qadhafi's wife Safia, his sons Hannibal and Mohammed, and his daughter Aisha entered the country across the land border.
It said Algerian authorities have informed the United Nations secretary general, the president of the UN Security Council, and the head of the Libyan rebels transitional leadership council.
Ahmed Jibril, an aide to rebel National Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul Jalil, said officials would "demand that Algerian authorities hand them over to Libya to be tried before Libyan courts".
Ahmed Bani, military spokesperson of the council, said he was not surprised to hear Algeria had welcomed Qadhafi's relatives. Throughout the six-month Libyan uprising, rebels have accused Algeria of providing Qadhafi with mercenaries to repress the revolt.
Over the weekend, the Egyptian news agency MENA, quoting unidentified rebel fighters, had reported that six armoured Mercedes sedans, possibly carrying Qadhafi's sons or other top regime figures, had crossed the border at the southwestern Libyan town of Ghadamis into Algeria. Algeria's foreign ministry had denied that report.
Rebel leaders have started to set up a new government in the capital Tripoli after their fighters drove Qadhafi's defenders out over the past week.
Qadhafi's whereabouts are still unknown, however, and people close to him have claimed he is still in the country and leading a fight to hold onto power.
"Qadhafi is still capable of doing something awful in the last moments," rebel leader Abdul Jalil told NATO officials earlier Monday in Qatar.
The focus of concern is Qadhafi's hometown of Sirte, his last major stronghold in the country.
The town is heavily militarised and shows no signs yet of surrendering even though rebels say they are trying to negotiate a bloodless takeover.
There was some fighting Monday on the eastern and western approaches to Sirte. Some have speculated that Qadhafi and other senior regime figures may have fled there.
A NATO officer, who asked not to be identified because of alliance rules, said there was fighting 50km east of Sirte. He said there are still clashes around Sirte, Bani Walid south of Misrata and Sebha further south.
The rebels asked NATO Monday to keep up pressure on remnants of Qadhafi's regime.
"Even after the fighting ends, we still need logistical and military support from NATO," Abdul Jalil said in Qatar. NATO has been bombing Qadhafi's forces since March under a United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians.
In other developments, the chairman of the African Union on Monday accused Libyan rebels of indiscriminately killing black people because they have confused innocent migrant workers with Qadhafi's mercenaries.
Jean Ping, speaking to reporters in Ethiopia, added this is one of the reasons the AU is refusing to recognise the National Transitional Council as Libya's interim government.
Ping did not elaborate his charges, which are much stronger than any that have been levied at the rebels by international rights groups. The groups have, however, expressed concern about beatings and detentions of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Qadhafi had recruited fighters from further south on the continent, but many sub-Saharan Africans are in the country as labourers.
National Transitional Council spokesperson Abdel Hafiz Ghoga denied the AU claims.
"These allegations have been made during the early days of the revolution. This never took place."
Meanwhile, council spokesperson Ghoga said his representatives have collected names in cities rebels have liberated, resulting in a list of some 50,000 people rounded up by the Qadhafi regime since the uprising began six months ago.
He said rebels freed 10,000 from prisons, leaving at least 40,000 unaccounted for.
In the capital, members of the National Transitional Council announced further steps to becoming an effective government. Suleiman Mahmoud Obeidi, the rebels' deputy military chief, announced the formation of a 17-member committee to represent the 30 or local military councils he said had been set up in the country's west.
France said Monday it was dispatching a team of diplomats to reopen the French embassy there and see how France can aid the city.
The European Union also was seizing a foothold in Tripoli. Kristalina Georgieva, European commissioner for international aid, said Monday the EU has opened a humanitarian office to help distribute medical and other emergency aid in the Libyan capital.