Scores of Libyan army vehicles have crossed the desert frontier into Niger in what may be a secretly negotiated bid by Muammar Gaddafi to seek refuge in a friendly African state.
Military sources from France and Niger told Reuters on Tuesday the convoy of between 200 and 250 vehicles was given an escort by the army of Niger into the city of Agadez.
The French military source says he had been told Muammar Gaddafi and son Saif al-Islam might be considering joining the convoy en route to Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African state that has offered the fugitive dictator and his family asylum.
It is not clear where the 69-year-old former leader is. Colonel Gaddafi has broadcast defiance since being forced into hiding two weeks ago, and has previously vowed to die fighting on Libyan soil.
Saif al-Islam, the heir apparent before the uprising which ended his father's 42 years of personal rule two weeks ago, also was considering joining the convoy, the French source added.
France played a leading role in the war against Gaddafi and such a large Libyan military convoy could hardly have moved safely without the knowledge and agreement of NATO air forces.
Sources told Reuters that France may have brokered an arrangement between the new Libyan government and Gaddafi.
But a spokesperson for the French foreign ministry in Paris could not confirm the report of the convoy's arrival in Agadez, nor any offer to Colonel Gaddafi, who with Saif al-Islam is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera television has reported Libya's rebels have struck a deal with delegates from the town of Bani Walid - one of the main remaining pockets of Gaddafi resistance in the country - to enter it without fighting on Tuesday.