Libyans count deadly cost of battle for Tripoli

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Residents of Tripoli dug makeshift graves to bury the dead as evidence emerged of widespread summary killings during the battle for the Libyan capital.

A week after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the stench of decomposing bodies and burning garbage hung over the city as it faced a major humanitarian crisis due to collapsing water and power supplies, shortages of medicine and no effective government.

In a sign of continuing instability in the city, bursts of heavy machine gun fire could be heard overnight.

The rebels now in control of most of Tripoli vowed to take Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte by force if negotiations with loyalists in one of their last strongholds there failed.

As the fighting ebbed away in the capital, more and more bodies were found. Some were Gaddafi soldiers who perished, while others appeared to have been executed. Still more were found in the grounds of a hospital abandoned by its doctors.

The charred remains of around 53 people have been found in a warehouse in Tripoli, apparently opponents of Gaddafi who were executed as his rule collapsed, Britain’s Sky News reported yesterday.

Sky broadcast pictures of a heap of burned skeletons, still smouldering, in an agricultural warehouse, where the victims were apparently prisoners.

In the Tajoura district of the capital, local people prepared a mass grave for the bodies of 22 African men who appeared to have been recruited to fight for Gaddafi. One of the dead had his hands tied behind his back.

“The rebels asked them to surrender but they refused,” said resident Haitham Mohammed Khat’ei.

“Residents of the neighbourhood decided to bury them in accordance with Islamic law,” he told Reuters.

Reports of cold-blooded killings by both sides have surfaced in the last few days, darkening the atmosphere in a city where many had greeted Gaddafi’s fall with joy.

In a sign of the lawlessness now gripping parts of the capital, one of Gaddafi’s villas lay looted and abandoned, torn pictures of the fugitive leader scattered in its grounds.

Gaddafi’s own whereabouts remain unknown — rebels hunting him say the war will not end until the 69-year-old colonel, who kept Libya in his grip for 42 years, is captured or killed.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), told reporters in Benghazi: “We have no factual report about the whereabouts of Gaddafi and his sons.”

The NTC, which has told its fighters not to carry out revenge killings, is trying to assert its authority and restore order in Tripoli but its top officials have yet to move there from their Benghazi headquarters in the east.

Abdel Jalil said the water and electricity cuts were the result of sabotage by Gaddafi loyalists.

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