BENGHAZI, Libya – Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi have moved hundreds of hostages to a village outside Sirte in what appear to be preparations for a final violent stand, officials of the National Transitional Council said Thursday.

The transfer of as many as 300 rebels taken captive during recent fighting to the village of Qasr bu Hadi, which is about 10 miles east of Sirte, took place earlier this week, transitional council officials said.

Fathi Baja, head of political affairs for the council, equated the transfer of the prisoners to “taking human shields.”

Gadhafi loyalists also arrested at least four prominent backers of the National Transitional Council in Sirte on Wednesday and have moved them as well to Qasr bu Hadi, which is under the control of Gadhafi’s Gaddhafiya tribe, according to Hassan al Droe, Sirte’s representative to the council.

A rebel deadline for a negotiated settlement runs out at midnight tonight, and officials are expecting a bloody endgame.

Gadhafi and his backers appeared to be preparing a final stand. The former dictator has been issuing orders on a local FM radio station, council officials said, urging his loyalists to continue the fight.

In a radio statement Wednesday, Gadhafi commanded his backers to organize 1,000 cars and drive east on Libya’s Mediterranean coast to reconquer the oil refinery town of Brega, Droe said. Only 90 vehicles responded, however, Droe said.

Droe estimated that there were about 1,000 loyalist fighters in Sirte and about the same number in Qasr bu Hadi.

National Transitional Council officials said they don’t know for sure where Gadhafi is now hiding, but the moves by his loyalists around Sirte, together with the FM broadcast, seemed to point to his likely presence near the city.