The United States hopes deposed Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi can be killed or quickly captured, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday during an unannounced visit to the North African nation.

"We hope he will be captured or killed soon," CNN quoted Clinton as telling reporters during her first visit to the country, which makes her the highest-ranking U.S. official to travel to Libya since Gadhafi was toppled from power.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks with Mahmoud Jibril, head of Libya's National Transitional Council, before a news conference in Tripoli on Tuesday. ((Suhaib Salem/Reuters))

Previously, Clinton and U.S. officials have only stated publicly that they hoped the former Libyan strongman — whose whereabouts are still unknown despite his regime's collapse — would be "brought to justice."

Clinton also hailed the "bravery and determination" of the Libyan people during their uprising and brought a pledge of additional support for the country's transitional government. But she also urged Libya's new leaders to build an inclusive democratic society.

"This is Libya's moment. This is Libya's victory. The future belongs to you," she said during a news conference with interim Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril.

"We will support a process of democratizing that respects the rule of law, that respects the rights of women and minorities and young people, that creates independent institutions like a free press and an independent judiciary."

Clinton also announced that the U.S., pending congressional approval, would provide $40 million to help Libya secure and destroy dangerous stockpiles of weapons.

Sirte battle continues

Most of the country is now under the control of Libya's National Transitional Council, which claims it is making gains against pockets of resistance still held by Gadhafi loyalists in his hometown of Sirte.

On Monday, the NTC claimed it had captured almost all of another holdout city, Bani Walid, while more fierce fighting was reported in Sirte.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, U.S. officials refused to confirm a report that one of Gadhafi's sons had been killed in battle with forces loyal to Libya's transitional government in August.  

The Syrian-based TV station Arrai said that Khamis Gadhafi was killed on Aug. 29 while fighting in Tarhouna, 80 kilometres south of Tripoli.

Khamis, who commanded one of the regime's strongest military brigades, has reappeared twice during Libya's uprising after being reported killed by rebel forces.

Khamis was injured as a child in U.S. bombing raids in 1986 shortly after Libya was blamed for masterminding a bombing in West Berlin that killed an American soldier and a woman.

With files from The Associated Press