SUN 12 - 7 - 2020
Jun 16, 2020
The Daily Star
Libya's government asks UN help after mass graves discovery
UNITED NATIONS: Libya’s UN-supported government has requested United Nations assistance following the discovery of mass graves in territory recently recaptured from rival forces commanded by Khalifa Haftar, the UN said Monday.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the UNpolitical mission in Libya "is in communication with authorities on what kind of assistance the United Nations can offer."
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed shock late Friday at the discovery of mass graves and called on the government to secure the grave sites, identify the victims, establish the causes of death and return the bodies to next of kin. He offered UN support in carrying this out, the UN said.
The United Nations said Friday that at least eight mass graves have been discovered, mostly in Tarhuna, a key western town that served as a main stronghold for Khalifa’s east-based forces in their 14-month campaign to capture the capital, Tripoli.
Government-allied forces announced on June 5 that they had recaptured Tarhuna, some 65 kilometers (41 miles) southeast of the Libyan capital, their latest in a string of battlefield successes that reversed most of Haftar's gains. Days earlier, the government said it regained control of all of Tripoli’s entrance and exit points and Tripoli airport.
Fathi Bashagha, the interior minister in the UN-supported government, said last week that authorities were documenting evidence of alleged war crimes in Tarhuna, noting that preliminary reports indicated dozens of victims found in the city’s mass graves had been buried alive.
Bashagha also said that special investigative teams uncovered a shipping container in Tarhuna full of charred bodies, presumably of detainees, and blamed powerful militias loyal to Haftar for "heinous crimes." A feared Haftar-allied militia called al-Kaniyat, notorious for its targeting of dissenters, had controlled the town.
The discoveries have raised fears about the extent of human rights violations in territories controlled by Haftar's forces, given the difficulties of documentation in an active war zone.
Libya is teetering on the brink of a new escalation as government-backed militias are continuing their campaign, now focused on recapturing the coastal town of Sirte. The hometown of Libya’s late dictator Moammar Gadhafi would provide access to the country’s vast oil fields under Haftar's control. The intensified fighting forced nearly 24,000 people to flee their homes last week, according to UN humanitarian officials.
That campaign is taking place as international pressure intensifies to end the fighting.
The latest call came Sunday from Pope Francis, who urged political and military leaders in Libya to "end the violence" and move on a path toward "peace, stability and unity." He also called on the international community to take "to heart" the plight of migrants trapped in the lawless nation.
The UN political mission in Libya said it convened a meeting with a delegation from Haftar's forces on June 3 to talk about a cease-fire and another meeting on June 9 with a delegation from the UN-supported government.
Haq, the UN deputy spokesman, said Monday the mission is preparing for a second virtual meeting with Haftar's delegation "to take place soon as part of the ongoing process."
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Forces under Haftar launched an offensive trying to take Tripoli in April 2019, and the crisis in the oil-rich country has steadily worsened as foreign backers increasingly intervene despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.
Haftar's offensive is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. The government in Tripoli is backed by Turkey - which sent troops and mercenaries to protect the capital in January - as well as Italy and Qatar.
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