* Gaddafi son and brother-in-law may be seeking way out
* Messages passed through Britain, France, Austria
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, March 24 (Reuters) - Members of Muammar Gaddafi's entourage are putting out feelers to seek a ceasefire or safe passage from Libya, according to U.S. and European officials and a businessman close to the Libyan leadership.
Messages seeking some kind of peaceful end to U.N.-backed military action or a safe exit for members of Gaddafi's entourage have been sent via intermediaries in Austria, Britain and France, said Roger Tamraz, a Middle Eastern businessman with long experience conducting deals with the Libyan regime.
Tamraz said Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar's eldest son, and Abdullah Senoussi, the Libyan leader's brother-in-law, were the most prominent Gaddafi entourage members involved in seeking ways to end the fighting.
A U.S. national security official, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that U.S. government agencies were aware that Saif al-Islam and Senoussi had been involved in making peace overtures.
The U.S. official, and a European government official who is also following Libyan events closely, said that U.S. and European governments were treating the purported outreach with caution, but not dismissing it out of hand.
"It's clear that some of Gaddafi's family members always have a plan B up their sleeve. That doesn't mean they'll leave and certain Gaddafis are probably going to stick with their crazy dad no matter what happens," the U.S. official said.
In an interview on Tuesday with a U.S. television network, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was aware that people close to Gaddafi had been trying to make contact.
"I'm not aware that he personally has reached out, but I do know that people allegedly on his behalf have been reaching out," Clinton told ABC America's Diane Sawyer.
"This is what we hear from so many sources...Today, yesterday, the day before. Some of it...is theater, some of it is kind of, shall we say, game-playing...But some of it, we think, is exploring, 'what are my options, where could I go, what could I do.' And we would encourage that," Clinton said.
The U.S. national security official added: "It's not at all surprising that members of the Gaddafi regime might be looking for ways out of this mess."
Tamraz, a financier and oil man who sold a chain of European gasoline refineries and retail stations to Libya's sovereign wealth fund three decades ago, claims strong connections in Libya and the Middle East.
The businessman indicated he had been in contact with people in the Middle East and Europe with knowledge of the Libyan overtures. Tamraz spoke to Reuters by telephone from the United Arab Emirates.
During the last six months, Tamraz said, he had begun discussions with Libyan representatives to buy back the oil company, which operates under the Tamoil brand in Italy, Switzerland and Germany.
Tamoil's Swiss branch said earlier this month that it might be subject to anti-Gaddafi sanctions.
But later the company said it would not be affected by European Union or Swiss sanctions and that it no longer has ties to a former Tamoil director associated with the Libyan Investment Authority who is personally named in the E.U.'s anti-Gaddafi sanctions order.
Tamraz told Reuters that some of the most aggressive efforts by members of Gaddafi's entourage to start dialogue were being channeled through Austria. A European government financial investigator said that Libya was believed to have extensive wealth and investments in Austria.
Tamraz said that he believed Saif al-Islam, Senoussi and other members of the Gaddafi entourage were proposing a ceasefire between government forces, rebels and the anti-Gaddafi Western alliance, or plans which would enable members of the Libyan leader's entourage to go into exile peacefully. (Editing by David Storey)