TUNIS // Tunisia has arrested and jailed the man who was Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's prime minister until the collapse of the Libyan regime last month, officials said yesterday.
Al Baghdadi Ali Al Mahmoudi, one of the most senior members of the former Libyan regime to have been detained to date, was sentenced to six months in prison for illegally entering the country, a Tunisian justice ministry spokesman said.
Al Mahmoudi "appeared before the state prosecutor in Tozeur, 430 kilometres south of Tunis, and sentenced to six months in prison with immediate effect," Kadhem Zine el Abidine said.
He was arrested late on Wednesday with two other people after they were found without visas in the southern town of Tameghza, near Tunisia's border with Algeria, interior ministry spokesman Hichem Meddeb said yesterday.
He said the three men did not have a visa in their passports but he was unable to say exactly when and where they had crossed the border.
Al Mahmoudi is not among the former Qaddafi allies being sought by the International Criminal Court.
On September 7, another member of Col Qaddafi's inner circle, Khouildi Hamidi, was briefly detained at Tunis airport for illegal entry.
Since Col Qaddafi's 42-year-old regime started collapsing, many senior officials in his entourage have defected or fled, often transiting through neighbouring Tunisia.
Tunisia, also ruled by an interim administration since the January removal of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that started the Arab Spring uprisings, officially recognised the National Transitional Council last month.
The NTC has said it wants to try former regime officials in Libya.
Col Qaddafi remains at large, and his whereabouts unknown. His supporters remain well-armed and fighting is still raging on three fronts in Libya a month after revolutionary forces seized control of the capital, Tripoli and brought down his regime.
The Canadian general commanding Nato's mission in Libya said that isolated groups of Col Qaddafi supporters continue to be a threat to local people but are unable to coordinate their actions.
Lt Gen Charles Bouchard said in a conference call with reporters that many Col Qaddafi forces are surrounded with no way out. On Wednesday, Nato's decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, granted approval to extend the mission for another 90 days. Without an extension, permission for the operation would have expired September 27.
Government forces this week have made inroads against Qaddafi loyalists in Sabha, the last major city in Libya's far south on a key road leading to the border with Niger.
Libya's new rulers insist the holdouts in Col Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, Bani Walid and Sabha are diehard supporters, including many who escaped Tripoli, and believe they have no choice but to resist or face war-crimes charges.
A military spokesman for the NTC, Colonel Ahmed Bani, said the revolutionaries had unconfirmed information that Col Qaddafi had been in Sabha but escaped.
* Associated Press with additional reporting from Agence France-Presse