Libya: 50,000 people imprisoned by Gaddafi regime are missing - claim
Up to 50,000 people imprisoned by the Gaddafi regime are missing, it has emerged, as evidence mounts of war crimes committed by the former leader's retreating soldiers.
Rebel leaders estimate that 60,000 opponents of the ousted dictator have been jailed since the insurgency began in February, but with most of Libya now rebel hands, only 11,000 have been freed.
Mass executions of opposition forces are being uncovered on a daily basis, and human rights groups fear the total number of prisoners murdered by the retreating loyalists, already in the scores, could escalate sharply.
Over the weekend the charred remains of at least 53 people were found in a warehouse where they appeared to have been executed by the Khamis Brigade, Libya's most feared military unit. A further 18 bodies were discovered decomposing in a nearby ditch by a Daily Telegraph reporter yesterday.
Col Ahmed Omar Bani, a rebel military leader, said: "The number of people arrested over the past months is estimated at between 57,000 and 60,000.
"Between 10,000 and 11,000 prisoners have been freed up until now ... so where are the others?"
One theory is that the prisoners are being held in underground bunkers which have not yet been discovered, but Col Bani said it would be "catastrophic" if they had been killed.
Many of those who were imprisoned were captured rebel fighters, but thousands more were civilians suspected of supporting the revolution who were rounded up in a series of security crackdowns.
Human Rights Watch said it had gathered evidence that pro-Gaddafi forces had carried out "arbitrary executions of dozens of civilians" before Tripoli fell to the rebels.
One man who said three of his sons were among those executed in the Khamis Brigade warehouse told the BBC that up to 150 civilians were packed into the building, guarded by mercenaries.
"They promised them water at sunset but came with guns instead," he said. "They started shooting, then they threw in hand grenades, three of them."
Eyewitness accounts of loyalists opening fire on prisoners is likely to be presented to the International Criminal Court if and when members of the Gaddafi member are captured and sent there for war crimes trials.
Meanwhile Gaddafi's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said the fugitive dictator was willing to take part in negotiations for the formation of a transitional government.
The offer was dismissed as "delusional" by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, while Libya's National Transitional Council dismissed the suggestion of talks as "a daydream of what remains of the dictatorship".
Mahmoud Shammam, the NTC's information minister, said: "I would like to state very clearly, we don't recognize them. We are looking at them as criminals. We are going to arrest them very soon."
The whereabouts of Gaddafi and his family are still unknown, though Libya is filled with rumours that they have fled to Zimbabwe, Algeria or even Europe.
The coastal town of Bin Jawwad, around 60 miles east of Sirte, was the latest to fall to the opposition yesterday, and with loyalist forces almost defeated in Tripoli, the rebels were massing on the outskirts of Sirte, Gaddafi's home town and his main remaining stronghold, to begin a ground assault following a weekend of bombardment by Nato air strikes.
One of the biggest problems facing the interim government is a shortage of food, water and electricity supplies in Tripoli.
Usama el-Abed, the deputy leader of the new city council, said that between 60 and 70 per cent of the capital's residents do not have enough water, but he added that the shortages are due to technical problems, which he hopes will soon be fixed, not sabotage by loyalist forces.
The United Nations is preparing to ship in baby food, bottled water and medicine, while World Health Organization officials are on Malta to arrange aid shipments which should arrive in Libya later this week.
But there were also encouraging signs of normality beginning to return to the streets of Tripoli, with traffic policemen in their distinctive white uniforms returning to duty.
One of the officers, Abu Bakr al-Murbet, said: "Today is the first day that we started working. Things are under control and running smoothly."
The rebel-controlled AGOCO oil company said it would re-start production at its Sarir and Mesla fields in a fortnight and expected to begin exports by the end of September, providing much-needed funds for the interim government.