UN chief shocked at Libya mass graves in recently freed town

FILE - In this Jan. 17, 2020, file, photo, Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter joins a meeting with the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens. The U.S. military Tuesday, May 26, 2020 accused Russia of deploying fighter planes to conflict-stricken Libya to support Russian mercenaries aiding east-based forces in their offensive on the capital, Tripoli. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TANZANIA – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed deep shock late Friday at the discovery of mass graves in Libyan territory recently recaptured from forces commanded by Khalifa Hifter, and called for a transparent investigation.

The U.N. chief also called on Libya’s U.N.-supported government to secure the mass graves, identify the victims, establish the causes of death and return the bodies to next of kin. He offered U.N. support in carrying it out, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“The secretary-general once again reminds all parties to the conflict in Libya of their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” Dujarric said.

The United Nations said earlier Friday that at least eight mass graves have been discovered, mostly in the town of 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.

The discoveries have raised fears about the extent of human rights violations in territories controlled by Hifter’s forces, given the difficulties of documentation in an active war zone.

Philippe Nassif, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said the group was working to verify the mass killings.

“We want to be able to go in, or have the U.N. go in, and collect evidence of potential war crimes and other atrocities ... so eventually a process takes place where justice can be served,” he said.

Last week, militias allied with the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli recaptured Tarhuna, some 65 kilometers (41 miles) southeast of the Libyan capital, their latest in a string of battlefield successes that reversed most of Hifter’s gains. Earlier, the government said it regained control of all of Tripoli’s entrance and exit points and Tripoli airport.