TRIPOLI // Thousands of fighters from Libya's National Transitional Council were stalled yesterday outside the town of Bani Walid after talks with tribal leaders on entering the city peacefully appeared to break down.
With most of Libya's cities under its control, the NTC is keen to avoid further bloodshed in subduing the remnants of Colonel Muammer Qaddafi's forces.
About 100 pro-Qaddafi fighters are believed to have holed up in Bani Walid, a desert town 145 kilometres south of Tripoli and a power centre of the influential Warfalla tribe.
"We won't go inside Bani Walid unless the Warfalla tribe invites us," said Ismail Al Gitani, commander of NTC forces outside Bani Walid.
"The Warfalla have to lead us into Bani Walid. Hopefully no one will be shot. We don't want to use our weapons but if the Qaddafi loyalists shoot at us, of course we will return fire."
At an estimated one million strong, the Warfalla tribe make up about one sixth of Libya's populations. Some Warfalla leaders have sided with Colonel Qaddafi in the six-month civil war.
NTC spokesmen say that most of the town's inhabitants want peace but are cowed by Qaddafi loyalists.
Tribal leaders from the town have ventured out to NTC lines in recent days to try to negotiate a surrender but so far talks have failed.
Communications in Bani Walid are cut off and the town has had no electricity or water for about 10 days.
Similar conditions may prevail in the cities of Sebha and Sirte, Col Qaddafi's hometown.
Communications networks in both cities are down as NTC forces seek to wrest them from regime control.
Fighting has occurred in Sebha during the past fortnight, while NTC forces are parked outside Sirte in hopes of negotiating the city's surrender.
NTC leaders have extended until Saturday a deadline for pro-Qaddafi forces to surrender or face military assault.
Nato aircraft hit targets near Sirte on Sunday night. The Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said yesterday that the alliance will continue operation in Libya for the time being but should end soon.
Bani Walid, Sirte and Sebha have all figured in speculation over the whereabouts of Colonel Qaddafi, who has not been seen publicly in months. He is believed to have fled Tripoli with his family and members of regime.
On Saturday Colonel Qaddafi's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, indicated that he himself might be in Bani Walid.
Saif Al Islam Qaddafi was also rumoured to have been in Bani Walid until Saturday, when he slipped out of the city, according to Reuters.
Last week Colonel Qaddafi's wife, Safia, his daughter Aisha and son Hannibal arrived in Algeria with other members of his family.
Yesterday, about 10 high-ranking regime officials, but not Qaddafi family members, were reported to have arrived in Niger, escorted by a Niger Tuareg rebel leader.
The officials reportedly included the internal security chief, Mansour Daw, and were led to the city of Agadez by Agaly Alambo, head of the Niger Movement for Justice, who has strong ties to Colonel Qaddafi.
Meanwhile, in Tripoli, normal life is gradually resuming following the shock of last month's NTC advance into the city.
While the city still suffers shortages of food, water and fuel, civilian cars now outnumber NTC gun-mounted pickups, most checkpoints have disappeared and shops are reopening.
About half of Tripoli's police has returned to work, said the interim interior minister, Ahmad Darat, quoted by Reuters.
Media and NTC officials have burrowed through abandoned regime offices, turning up state documents that in same cases are provoking controversy.
Yesterday, the British prime minister, David Cameron, said that an inquiry panel on anti-terrorism policy will examine claims that British and Libyan secret services enjoyed too cosy a relationship in recent years.
Those claims surfaced after security documents were discovered in a Tripoli office that disclosed contacts between British and American spies and their Libyan counterparts.
One CIA document appears to show that British and Libyan security services cooperated to spirit a terrorist suspect from Hong Kong to Tripoli with his family despite the risk of torture, with American encouragement.
China yesterday confirmed that representatives of Colonel Qaddafi visited Beijing in July hoping to buy weapons.
The announcement came after a government invoice was found in Tripoli for Chinese weapons worth US$200 million (Dh735m).
While China's government denies helping arm Colobnel Qaddafi against NTC forces, an NTC spokesman has said that Chinese companies sold him weapons that were delivered via Algeria in defiance of a UN arms embargo.