Fears for ‘tens of thousands’ rounded up by Gaddafi

TENS of thousands of Libyan prisoners are missing amid fears that they may have been killed, according to a rebel military spokesman.

Opposition fighters have made a series of grizzly discoveries since seizing Tripoli last week, finding bodies left to rot in hospital wards, dumped in mass graves or burned beyond recognition.

Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said rebels had so far released more than 10,000 prisoners who had been held by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s security forces, many rounded up during the last days of the dying regime.

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“The number of people arrested over the past months is estimated at between 57,000 and 60,000,” said Col Bani in the rebel bastion of Benghazi.

“Between 10,000 and 11,000 prisoners have been freed up until now – so where are the others?”

He said he was deeply concerned about their fate. “It would be catastrophic if it turns out they were killed,” he said.

Hundreds of bodies were dumped around detention centres in the Tripoli suburb of Abu Salim, a generally pro-Gaddafi neighbourhood that saw fierce fighting between rebels and regime loyalists.

Its prison came to symbolise the repression of Gaddafi’s brutal 42-year rule.

In 1996, his troops mowed down 1,200 prisoners protesting against miserable living conditions.

It was the arrest earlier this year of a lawyer representing the massacre’s victims that sparked Libya’s 17 February uprising.

Now there is growing evidence that departing regime soldiers killed political prisoners or comrades who threw down their arms.

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Col Bani said opposition officials were to trace the missing.

“We have names of individuals who know what happened with the prisoners in Tripoli and these individuals are currently being sought by our liberation forces. We invite anyone who has information on prisoners to come forward, or they will be considered complicit in these crimes,” he warned.

“It is high time those who claimed to have been too frightened to speak to come forward and testify about the crimes which were being committed.”

The rebels have put justice alongside transparent, open government at the heart of their programme for government.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague has issued arrest warrants for Gaddafi and his son, Saif, but Col Bani said Libyan law would take precedence.

“We hope that Gaddafi is still in Libya so we can rid the world of this insect,” he said. “The only way to treat this pest is to make him accountable for the crimes in Libya.”