UN plea for peace in wave of slayings
Published 27/08/2011 | 05:00
THE killings were pitiless. They had taken place at a makeshift hospital, in a tent marked with the symbols of the Islamic Crescent.
Some of the dead were on stretchers, attached to intravenous drips. Some were on the back of an ambulance that had been shot at. A few were on the ground, seemingly attempting to crawl to safety when the bullets came.
Around 30 men lay decomposing in the heat. Many of them had their hands tied behind their back, either with plastic handcuffs or ropes. One had a scarf stuffed into his mouth. Almost all of the victims were black men. Their bodies had been dumped near the scene of two of the fierce battles between rebel and regime forces in Tripoli.
"Come and see. These are blacks, Africans, hired by Gaddafi, mercenaries," shouted Ahmed Bin Sabri, lifting the tent flap to show the body of one dead patient, his grey T-shirt stained dark red with blood, the saline pipe running into his arm black with flies.
Why had an injured man receiving treatment been executed? Mr Sabri, more a follower than a fighter, shrugged. It was seemingly incomprehensible to him that anything wrong had been done.
The corpses were on the grass verges of two large roundabouts between Bab al-Aziziyah, Col Muammar Gaddafi's compound stormed by the revolutionaries at the weekend, and Abu Salim, a loyalist district that had seen three days of ferocious violence.
The United Nations yesterday issued an urgent call for restraint by both sides in the bloody and bitter endgame to the civil war. But the thirst for vengeance has been difficult to control, to which the morgues, hospitals and the urban killings fields of the Libyan capital bore testimony.
The dire warning in Gaddafi's latest broadcast that the population of Tripoli would be persecuted by the revolutionaries and women would be raped in their homes is unsubstantiated, as are similar claims by his official apologist, Moussa Ibrahim.
It is also the case that the regime has repeatedly unleashed appalling violence on its own people. But the mounting number of deaths of men from sub-Saharan Africa at the hands of the rebels, lynchings in many cases, raises disturbing questions about the opposition administration, the Transitional National Council (TNC) taking over as Libya's government, and about Western backing for it.
The suspected atrocities by rebel fighters are said to have been raised with members of the TNC in recent days by British officials, who made clear their "concern" at the reports coming out of Tripoli.
The Foreign Office underlined that the apparent executions of pro-Gaddafi soldiers were as yet unverified.
A spokesman said: "We are aware of reports, but have no means of verifying them. We condemn all human rights abuses. The TNC leadership has made clear the need to avoid violence and reprisals and has repeatedly said that anyone found guilty of crimes will be held to account."
But, for some on the ground in Tripoli, a different view has taken hold. Since the start of the uprising last February, the opposition has tried to portray the conflict as waged by patriotic Libyans against foreign hired guns of the dictator. A few of the tales took fanciful turns, such as the story of a crack team of female snipers. But it had been black males, very often migrant workers, who paid the lethal price after being accused of being mercenaries.
Only a few of the dead found at the roundabouts yesterday were in uniform. However, it is the case that regime forces have often been in civilian clothes during combat in Tripoli.
The frustration at the continuing stubborn resistance by the enemy after an entry into the capital greeted with celebration by residents led to something approaching fury among some of the revolutionaries.
"They were shooting at us and that is the reason they were killed," said Mushab Abdullah, a 35-year-old rebel fighter from Misrata.
But, if the men had been killed in action, why did they have their hands tied behind their back? "Maybe they were injured, and they had to be brought to this hospital and the handcuffs were to stop them from attacking. And then something went wrong," suggested Mr Abdullah.
Yesterday, RAF Tornado GR 4 warplanes fired Cruise missiles at a bunker in Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, which is continuing to stave off rebel attacks.
Ahmed Bani, military spokesman for the TNC, said: "Maybe this will help. Maybe the mercenaries there will run away. This will allow the local people to rise up and we can bring this to a conclusion." (© Independent News Service)