Rights Group Calls on Libyan Rebels to Protect Civilians

Posted July 13th, 2011 at 1:45 am (UTC-5)
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A human rights group is calling on opposition fighters in western Libya to protect civilians in towns they control, and hold themselves accountable for reports of looting and other abuses.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Wednesday opposition fighters and supporters have damaged property, looted hospitals and homes, and beaten some people who support leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The group said the abuses took place in the rebel-held towns of al-Awaniya, Rayayinah, Zawiyat al-Bagul and al-Qawalish in the Nafusa Mountains.

Human Rights Watch said a rebel commander in the area confirmed abuses had taken place, and that some people have been punished.

The group says it has also documented “repeated” attacks by government forces against civilians in some of the same areas during the past two months, including the use of landmines.

Meanwhile, France's foreign minister says NATO members have had contact with emissaries from Mr. Gadhafi who say the embattled Libyan leader is ready to give up power.

Alain Juppe said Tuesday the discussions do not yet constitute full-fledged negotiations. But he said emissaries are telling French and other officials that, in their words, “Mr. Gadhafi is prepared to go. Let's talk about it.”

The reliability of the emissaries' information is not clear. Mr. Gadhafi so far has refused to leave or give up power, and previous peace offers from his government have come to nothing.

Also Tuesday, Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi told France's Le Figaro newspaper that his government is ready to begin talks with Paris and with Libyan rebels “without preconditions.” He said Mr. Gadhafi – whom he referred to as “The Guide” – would not take part in the discussions.

A spokesman for the rebel Transitional National Council said opposition forces would only respond to “serious initiatives” that include the departure from power of Mr. Gadhafi and his sons.

France says it has sent messages to the Libyan government saying Mr. Gadhafi must step down as part of any political solution to the five-month conflict with rebel forces fighting to end his 42-year rule.