DNA lab identifies first bodies from Libyan mass grave

THE remains of some of the thousands of people who are missing after years of conflict in Libya are being identified by a Sarajevo DNA laboratory.

The laboratory, run by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), which through its work in the Balkans has become world leader in the field, has generated more than 100 DNA matches since the fall of the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The DNA matches have been made from bone and blood samples submitted to the ICMP by the new Libyan authorities.

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Last November, the ICMP and the Libyan government signed an agreement to co-operate over missing persons cases from the recent conflicts, as well as from Gaddafi’s 42-year regime. So far, 115 DNA matches have been made.

The blood and bone samples are from the notorious case of the Bin Jawad mass grave, in which about 170 bodies were found in December 2011.

Bin Jawad, a Libyan coastal town, was the scene of fierce fighting in March 2011 between anti-Gaddafi rebels and forces loyal to the colonel

ICMP compared the DNA profiles of post-mortem samples with blood samples obtained from families of the missing.

The Libyan authorities will now inform the families of the missing that their relatives have been identified and legally close the cases.

The ICMP has also made a positive identification in the case of Mansour Rashid Kikhia, a former Libyan foreign minister, human rights activist and prominent figure in the opposition to Gaddafi, who allegedly disappeared in Egypt in 1993. His remains were found in Libya last year.

ICMP’s director general Kathryne Bomberger said: “ICMP is committed to assisting the Libyan government to continue to develop its capability to address this painful issue.

“As we do so, we are also assisting them through using our capacity to conduct high-throughput DNA identification testing to assist in resolving large numbers of missing persons cases.

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“We hope that by expediting this process we will bring long-awaited answers to families of the missing who have waited to learn the fate of their loved ones.”

Jibril Hamed, who is in charge of the identification process at the Ministry for the Affairs of Families of Martyrs and Missing Persons, said there could be up to 10,000 people missing in Libya, both from the recent conflict, as well as those missing from the 1977 war with Egypt, the 1978 war with Uganda, the 1980-1987 wars with Chad and the 1996 Abu Salim Prison massacre in Tripoli.

Mr Hamed visited the ICMP’s Sarajevo laboratory last summer and said he was “very impressed with ICMP’s work in Bosnia… it has provided a very good model for us”.

As part of the agreement with the Libyan government, ICMP is providing assistance in the creation of a Libyan Identification Center (LIC) as the first step in enabling Libya to develop a system to trace missing persons.

ICMP also provides training for Libyan experts in the field of recovering human remains.

ICMP, says Director-General Ms Bomberger said the ICMP “has modernised and transformed the international community response to the issue of missing persons”.

On a visit to Sarajevo last year, Foreign Secretary William Hague said that by supporting the ICMP, the international community has shown that missing persons can be found.

ICMP’s DNA identification efforts of the remains from the Bin Jawad mass grave were funded by the British government, while the US and Denmark are also making contributions.