(Updates with comments from spokesman in fourth paragraph. See EXTRA for more on the Libyan conflict.)
Oct. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Libya’s National Transitional Council said reports that Muammar Qaddafi’s son Mutassim was captured in Sirte are untrue and his whereabouts are unknown.
“There is absolutely no evidence that Mutassim is in custody in any of our battalions since 2 a.m. last night,” Jalal el-Gallal said in a telephone interview from Benghazi today. “Last we heard he was cornered in a small area in Sirte and some of them were quite close to him. But this news came out that he is captured and we have no idea where he might be.”
Senior officials from the NTC, which seized Tripoli in August, attribute the tenacity of Qaddafi loyalists holding out in Sirte to the possible presence of Mutassim as well as fear of reprisals by rebel fighters. They say they have given assurances this won’t happen and have also halted the offensive several times to allow civilians to leave the city.
“Mutassim is a tyrant like his father,” el-Gallal said. “He’s a man with very little remorse, he carried out a lot of atrocities and the fact that he stayed in Sirte to fight shows he has a big appetite for blood. His capture will be extremely significant for these people after what they’ve been through.”
The whereabouts of Qaddafi and his other son Saif al-Islam, once his presumed heir, are also unknown.
Libyan fighters had advanced to the center of Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown, pushing out forces loyal to the former leader, North Atlantic Treaty Organization spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie said yesterday. Humanitarian aid can now reach Sirte’s main hospital and civilians are able to escape from contested areas, Lavoie said.
NATO, which began an air campaign to protect civilians in March about a month after the uprising began, is “essentially monitoring the situation” and stands ready to help when needed, Lavoie told reporters via video link yesterday.
The conflict all but halted oil exports from Libya, which has the largest proven reserves of any African country. Output dropped to 100,000 barrels a day in July, down from the 1.6 million barrels pumped before the uprising started.
Libya may pump about 600,000 barrels a day of crude oil by the end of the year, the International Energy Agency said yesterday, boosting a previous estimate by 50 percent. The Paris-based agency raised its year-end output forecast from 350,000 to 400,000 barrels a day, it said in its monthly report.
The national oil company and international partners in the North African country have restored production at some areas and output has started from four fields, and production may average 400,000 barrels a day in the fourth quarter, the IEA said.
--Editors: Digby Lidstone, Ben Holland.
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