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Libya Fighters, NATO Focus on Gadhafi Strongholds


Anti-Gadhafi fighters with weapons move to the front line, 90 km east of Sirte, from Om El Qandil, 90 km west of Ras Lanuf September 6, 2011.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters with weapons move to the front line, 90 km east of Sirte, from Om El Qandil, 90 km west of Ras Lanuf September 6, 2011.

Libyan fighters are continuing negotiations with leaders from one of ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi's last remaining strongholds, as NATO forces say they have bombed another pro-Gadhafi holdout.

NATO on Wednesday said its warplanes bombed several tanks and other armored vehicles around Gadhafi's hometown, Sirte. The first fighting in days was reported near Sirte on Tuesday, but National Transitional Council (NTC) commanders said the clashes did not mark the launch of an all-out bid to capture the city.

In the desert outpost of Bani Walid, negotiators from Libya's NTC say they are committed to avoiding bloodshed where they are pressing tribal elders tied to Gadhafi's former rule to surrender.

Town elders and NTC representatives met Tuesday for talks at a mosque on the town's outskirts, but elders were later confronted by angry citizens, including Gadhafi supporters, who fired into the air and sent them fleeing.

Meanwhile, conflicting reports have emerged about whether a large convoy carrying forces loyal to Gadhafi has crossed into neighboring Niger.

Three high-ranking officials from Niger late Tuesday denied media reports that more than 200 military vehicles from Libya had entered the country, saying only three cars had crossed the frontier.

The New York Times quotes Niger's justice minister, Marou Amadou, as saying the convoy consisted of "three vehicles maximum" and was unarmed. The head of Gadhafi's security brigades, Mansour Dhao, and several companions are the only people known to have crossed into Niger.

The Associated Press quotes the chief of staff of Niger's president as saying that when Dhao crossed the border he was escorted to Niamey and is being housed in a villa under constant surveillance.

The chief of staff said witnesses who reported seeing dozens of vehicles in the convoy had confused them with those sent by Niger's government to escort the Libyans. He also described "waves" of returnees crossing over from Libya as mostly Tuareg fighters who are nationals of Niger and Mali and had fought for Gadhafi in the recent war.

Earlier, the U.S. State Department said a group of vehicles carrying a dozen or more senior leaders from Gadhafi's government, including military commanders, was heading toward Niger's capital, Niamey. A spokeswoman said Gadhafi himself is not in the convoy, confirming an earlier statement from Niger's foreign minister.

Niamey is in Niger's southwestern corner near Burkina Faso, whose government said Tuesday it has not offered Gadhafi asylum, contrary to some news reports.

Leaders in the African Sahel will discuss Libya Wednesday during a security conference in Algeria. The Algerian minister for Africa and the Maghreb said the region must figure out how to deal with the "new situation" caused by the crisis. The leaders also plan to discuss al-Qaida's threat to the region.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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