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10 more bodies discovered in Libya mass grave

TRIPOLI, Libya: Forensics teams in war-shattered Libya have discovered 10 more bodies in mass graves in a town formerly controlled by a militia outside the capital Tripoli, the Government of National Accord has said.

“Three bodies were blindfolded and their wrists bound,” the GNA’s interior ministry said in a Facebook post on Thursday on the latest grisly find at Tarhuna, 80 kilometres southeast of Tripoli.

The United Nations had voiced “horror” when the mass graves were first discovered last June.

Since then, more than 120 bodies have been exhumed there, including women and children, following the latest finds.

The discovery last June came a day after the withdrawal of forces loyal to eastern Libyan renegade commander Khalifa Haftar from the town.

Haftar had used Tarhuna as the main staging point for an ultimately failed attempt to seize the capital in a military offensive launched in April 2019.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said more than 300 people had been abducted or reported missing in the past in Tarhuna, which is now back under GNA control.

Residents had reported that the local Al-Kani militia had “often abducted, detained, tortured, killed and disappeared people”, the rights watchdog said.

Libya has been wracked by violence since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The conflict pitted the GNA, recognised by the UN and backed by Turkey, against the eastern-based administration of Haftar, supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

A ceasefire was signed in October, and the rival camps have since agreed to an UN-sponsored political dialogue, with presidential and legislative elections scheduled for later this year.

In October,  12 unidentified bodies were found in mass graves in the Libyan city of Tarhuna, south of the capital, Tripoli.

The bodies were recovered from the newly discovered mass graves, Abdul-Aziz Jafri, a spokesman for the General Authority for Research and Identification of Missing Persons.

A fact-finding mission to Libya was established by the United Nations’ top rights body in June after prosecutors from the International Criminal Court said that mass graves discovered recently may constitute war crimes.

At least eight mass graves were discovered at the time, in an area retaken by Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) from renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

According to the Tripoli-based GNA, most of the graves were found in Tarhuna, Haftar’s last stronghold in western Libya.

A total of 86 bodies have since been recovered in Tarhuna, and 28 others in Tripoli since the beginning of a search in June, according to Libyan media.

Libya, a significant oil producer, has been mired in turmoil since 2011, when longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a NATO-backed uprising.

Since 2015, a power struggle has pitted the GNA in Tripoli against eastern-based Haftar, with both sides backed by rival foreign powers.

Hundreds have been killed and some 200,000 people were displaced in Libya since the latest escalation, which began in April 2019, when Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, launched an offensive against Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognised GNA.