Libya: Fears grow for 50,000 missing as evidence of war crimes grows
Published 29/08/2011 | 05:00
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 estimated that 60,000 opponents of the dictator had been jailed since the insurgency began in February, but with most of Libya now in 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.
During 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 reporter yesterday.
Colonel 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 that have not yet been discovered. Col Bani said it would be "catastrophic" if they had been killed.
Many of those who were imprisoned were rebel fighters, but thousands more were civilians suspected of supporting the revolution who were rounded up in a series of 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 warehouse said 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.
Eyewitness accounts of loyalists opening fire on prisoners is likely to be presented to the International Criminal Court if members of the Gaddafi family are captured.
Meanwhile, Moussa Ibrahim, Col Gaddafi's spokesman, 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, Britain's Foreign Secretary, while Libya's National Transitional Council dismissed the suggestion of talks as "a daydream of what remains of the dictatorship". (© Daily Telegraph, London)