(See EXTRA for more on the Libyan conflict.)
Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi committed possible war crimes in the battle for Misrata, a U.S.- based human rights group said, as some of the fallen leader’s family fled to neighboring Algeria.
Those crimes include murder, torture and rape, Physicians for Human Rights said in a report. The Boston-based group cited interviews with 54 residents of Misrata and its surrounding villages that it said were conducted in June, shortly after rebel forces captured the western coastal city.
“The rule of law must be the bedrock of a new and free Libya,” the group said in the report released today. The rebels’ National Transitional Council “must ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and held accountable.”
The rebels are seeking to capture Qaddafi and his closest aides, including son Saif al-Islam, to consolidate their gains and bring stability to the North African nation after entering Tripoli last week. Some of Qaddafi’s immediate family fled to Algeria, while his youngest son, a military commander, was reported yesterday to have been killed in battle.
Qaddafi’s wife, Safia, daughter Aisha and two sons, Hannibal and Mohammad, with their wives and children, crossed into Algeria early yesterday, the Algeria Press Service reported, citing a statement by the country’s Foreign Ministry.
Rebels Seek Qaddafi
The Libyan rebels want them sent back. Ahmed Jibril, an aide to transitional council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying rebel leadership will demand Algeria “hand them over to Libya to be tried before Libyan courts.”
Khamis Qaddafi, the military commander, was killed in a NATO air strike southeast of Tripoli, Sky News reported, citing a man claiming to have been Khamis’s bodyguard. A rebel official, speaking on the condition he not be named, said the deaths of Khamis and of Qaddafi’s top security adviser, Abdullah al-Senussi, hadn’t been confirmed.
Members of the Khamis Brigade, the Qaddafi son’s military force, allegedly executed detainees in a now burned-down warehouse near Tripoli on Aug. 23, Human Rights Watch said in a report on its website yesterday. An investigator from the group counted charred remains of 45 detainees and was told by a survivor that the building, used as a prison, held 153 people, mostly civilians, the New York-based group said.
The rebels expect to announce a new interim government, led by current Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, in the first week of September, NTC member Fathi Baja said by telephone yesterday.
Libya Contact Group
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Paris this week for a Sept. 1 meeting of the so-called Libya Contact Group, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland announced yesterday. Clinton and her foreign counterparts will “further coordinate our financial and political support” for the rebel council, Nuland said at a press briefing.
Nuland played down the option of holding a donors’ conference to raise money for the new Libyan government, saying “the first priority” for the U.S. is to unfreeze Libya’s assets and revive the country’s oil industry.
“Let’s start with getting their money back to them,” she said.
As anti-Qaddafi forces waited for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to bomb Scud missile sites so they can move toward Sirte, about 500 protesters in the rebel-held city of Misrata this week chanted the “blood of the martyrs” would be betrayed by the expected appointment of former army general Albarrani Shkal as head of security in the capital, Tripoli.
Sirte is a haven for Qaddafi loyalists, according to the rebel command and NATO. Qaddafi’s chief spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said Aug. 27 that Qaddafi remains in Libya and wants to negotiate with the rebels to form a transitional government, an offer that opposition leaders have rejected.
According to Baja, Qaddafi loyalists in Sirte have two options: “To speed up the negotiations process and accept the liberation of Sirte, or to face the military solution.” Salim Miftah, one of the rebel commanders, told Al Jazeera the rebels need about 10 days to capture Sirte if talks fail.
Rebel units pushed toward Sirte from east and west along the coastal highway on Aug. 28, Commander Ali Ahmed of the rebel Sidra Brigade said in an interview.
“The people of Sirte will not be happy losing their patronage and corruption networks to a new group who will develop their own,” said Paul Sullivan, a North Africa expert and professor at the Washington-based National Defense University. “The rebels need to bring the people of Sirte to their side and this seems near-impossible.”
NATO targeted 20 surface-to-air missile canisters and two surface-to-air missile systems in Sirte overnight, as well as five multiple-rocket launchers in Ras Lanuf, home to one of Libya’s biggest refineries, NATO said in a statement yesterday.
“Fierce clashes” have also erupted in Sabha, Baja said yesterday. A group of tribal leaders from Bani Walid asked to start talks with the rebels to “surrender and recognize the revolutionaries and the revolution,” Baja added.
Abdel-Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, was found lying in a comatose state and close to death in his Tripoli home, CNN reported. The Libyan rebel government won’t deport al-Megrahi, its justice minister said, according to the AP. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, had encouraged the rebel council to hold al-Megrahi fully accountable for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people.
Al-Megrahi spent almost nine years in prison in Scotland until he was released in 2009 for health reasons. The Scottish municipality responsible for monitoring al-Megrahi said in a statement yesterday that officials are in contact with his family and there is “no evidence of a breach of his license condition.”
The U.S. State Department has asked the rebel council to take “a hard look” at what should be done with al-Megrahi and the terms under which he was allowed back into Libya, Nuland said yesterday.
“We believe he should still be behind bars,” she said.
With Tripoli under their control, the rebel leaders are turning to domestic concerns including a water shortage and spread of disease.
“This could turn into an unprecedented health epidemic,” said Christian Balslev-Olesen, head of Unicef’s office in Libya.
Amnesty International said yesterday that key prison records and other documentation -- vital for possible war crimes trials -- are at risk of being lost as sites remain unsecured and papers are destroyed or looted.
The conflict has all but halted oil exports from Libya, which has the largest proven reserves of any African country. Output dropped to 100,000 barrels a day in July, down from the 1.6 million barrels pumped before the uprising started.
Crude oil for October delivery fell 8 cents to $87.19 a barrel at 9:04 a.m. London time on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
--With assistance from Vivian Salama in Dubai, Nicole Gaouette, Zaid Sabah Abd Alhamid, Nadeem Hamid and David Lerman in Washington and Mike Harrison in London. Editors: Karl Maier, Jennifer Freedman
To contact the reporters on this story: Christopher Stephen in Misrata, Libya at firstname.lastname@example.org; Caroline Alexander in London at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org.