Libya's new leadership rejects Amnesty claim of abuses


LIBYA’s new leadership hit back yesterday at a report accusing it of permitting attacks against civilians accused of supporting Muammar Gadafy and black migrant workers.

Justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi said any crimes committed were not the work of rebel forces. “They are not the military[committing these crimes] they are only ordinary people.”

Libya’s authorities say that it is difficult to regulate a revolutionary movement that mostly remains outside National Transitional Council (NTC) control.

Amnesty International’s report blamed the majority of abuses in the Libyan conflict on forces loyal to Col Gadafy, listing abuses including murder, torture and bombardment of civilian areas.

But it also listed violations by his opponents. “Opposition fighters and supporters have abducted arbitrarily tortured and killed former members of the security forces, suspected Gadafy loyalists, captured soldiers and foreign nationals wrongly suspected of being mercenaries,” said the report. It highlighted cases in which black African migrants had been lynched by rebel groups following the fall of Tripoli, saying many had been accused of being in the pay of the Gadafy regime.

There is widespread resentment among rebel units of mercenaries who have been captured from Chad and other African countries.

But Libya is also home to several thousand African migrant workers who were trapped by the war and insist they played no part in abuses by the Gadafy regime.

Amnesty said that it had yet to get a full picture of abuses, with the war still raging in parts of Libya, but it called on the governing NTC, now installed in Tripoli, to take action.

On Sunday, NTC prime minister Mahmoud Jibril called on all rebel military commands to come under a single, unified civilian control, though he has yet to receive pledges that the various rebel units will comply.

The NTC says the nature of the revolution, in which rebel units were formed in different towns by civilians, makes it difficult to police all revolutionary forces.

Amnesty acknowledged that the new government will struggle to gain control of the country’s armed factions.

“The NTC is facing a difficult task of reigning in opposition fighters and vigilante groups responsible for serious human rights abuses, including possible war crimes, but has shown unwillingness to hold them accountable.”

An early test of the new regime’s resolve may come with the incidence of home burnings at Tawarga, a rebel-held town abandoned by its black population after pro-Gadafy forces retreated last month. At least five homes and shops were ablaze yesterday in a town where the only occupants are rebel units. A rebel police officer blamed the attack on arsonists in the pay of Col Gadafy but offered no evidence.

Meanwhile, NTC forces have given Gadafy-supporting residents of Bani Walid, 180km (112 miles) southeast of Tripoli, two days to leave before a threatened onslaught. Along with Col Gadafy’s hometown Sirte on the central Mediterranean coast and Sabha in the remote southern desert, Bani Walid counts among the last strongholds of old regime fighters. Their resistance has impeded NTC efforts to normalise life in the oil-producing North African state again.

Residents fleeing the town have reported days of intense firefights, and Nato warplanes were backing up NTC fighters with air strikes on pro-Gadafy rocket positions.

Families trapped there for weeks started to slip out after Col Gadafy’s forces abandoned some checkpoints on the outskirts, and dozens of cars packed with civilians streamed out of the area on Monday and yesterday.