ibyan Leader Moammar Qadhafi gestures to supporters as he speaks in Tripoli, Libya, Wednesday, March 2, 2011. Qadhafi vowed “We will fight until the last man and woman” and lashed out against Europe and the United States for their pressure on him to step down, warning that thousands of Libyans will die if US and Nato forces intervene in the conflict. — AP Photo

DAKAR: After decades of financing and training rebels and liberation movements, Libya’s Moammer Qadhafi is accused of using his influence to amass an army of mercenaries from across sub-Saharan Africa.

Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Chad, Mali and Zimbabwe: One only has to name a conflict, rebel group or despot in Africa to find someone the Libyan leader has offered finance, training or backing to during his 41-year reign.

He has also aided peacekeeping operations, given aid and built infrastructure.

And now, waving oil money to the south, Qadhafi is said to have lured some 25,000 mercenaries to quash a popular revolt against his regime.

The head of the Libyan Human Rights League Ali Zeidan says Chad is leading this group of foreign fighters including citizens from Niger, Mali, Zimbabwe and Liberia who are being paid between 300 and 2,000 US dollars a day.

Qadhafi has financed rebel movements in Chad including that of current President Idriss Deby, and many of these former rebels are still living in Libya today.

These include supporters of former dictator Hissene Habre and ex-president Goukouni Weddeye.

While most of these governments have denied their nationals are fighting as mercenaries in Libya, Mali officials have confirmed hundreds of young Tuaregs from Mali and Niger have been recruited by Kadhafi.

Abdou Salam Ag Assalat, president of the Regional Assembly of Kidal said young people were “going in masses (to Libya).”He said regional authorities “are trying to dissuade them” from leaving, particularly ex-rebels, but that it was not easy as there were “dollars and weapons” waiting for them.

Qadhafi played a leading role in bringing an end to a Tuareg rebellion in Mali and Niger in October 2009, allegedly distributing millions of dollars to the insurgents.

“At least 3,000 former Tuareg fighters have been roaming in the wild since 2009 so it is no wonder some have been recruited by Kadhafi to whom they are heavily indebted,” said a Tuareg source in Niger on condition of anonymity.

Qadhafi has also supported Uganda’s National Resistance Army rebels, Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor who is currently facing trial for war crimes at The Hague.

Human Rights Watch said Wednesday it has been unable to independently verify the presence of foreign mercenaries in Libya.

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