The hunt for ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has moved to a southern desert region near the Algerian border, a spokesman for Libya's new leadership said Wednesday.

The fugitive leader is believed to be under the protection of the ethnic Tuareg group and possibly hiding near the town of Ghadamis, Abdel-Rahman Busin of the National Transitional Council said.

Ghadamis, Libya

Hisham Buhagiar, a senior military official of the NTC, was quoted by Reuters as saying that Gadhafi may have moved to the Ghadamis area, 550 kilometres southwest of Tripoli, from the desert town of Samnu, in south-central Libya, a week ago.

Last weekend, gunmen loyal to Gadhafi crossed the Libyan border from Algeria and attacked revolutionary forces in Ghadamis, killing six people.

Gadhafi's wife and three of his children fled to Algeria through Ghadamis after Tripoli's fall late last month.

More than a month after sweeping into Tripoli and ending Gadhafi's nearly 42-year rule, the fugitive leader's supporters are still putting up a fierce fight on three fronts: in Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte along the coast, the town of Bani Walid southeast of the capital and in pockets in the country's vast desert south, including Sabha.

Civilians flee Gadhafi stronghold

NATO warplanes have been striking targets in Sirte and thousands of people there have been fleeing to safety.Those who are staying must cope with shortages and power outages.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters on Sirte's western front used missiles, rockets and artillery fire Wednesday to pound loyalist forces inside the town.

Dozens of trucks mounted with missiles, anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank weapons streamed toward the frontline on the western edge of Sirte, about five kilometres from the city centre.

Elsewhere, interim-government fighters in Bani Walid say their commander was killed in a rocket attack Wednesday.

Before becoming leader of the anti-Gadhafi troops in that area, Daw Saleheen spent 20 years in jail under the Gadhafi regime

Gadhafi's whereabouts remain unknown, although he has exhorted his supporters to fight on several times in audio messages. Buhagir told Reuters that Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam is believed to be in Bani Walid, while another son, Mutassem, in Sirte.

With files from The Associated Press