Fears rebels are killing migrants mistaken for mercenaries

Libyan rebels may be indiscriminately killing black people because they have confused innocent migrant workers with mercenaries, the chairman of the African Union said yesterday, citing the fears as one reason the continental body has not recognised opposition forces as the nation’s interim government.

“NTC seems to confuse black people with mercenaries,” said AU chairman Jean Ping, referring to the rebels’ National Transitional Council. “All blacks are mercenaries. If you do that it means [that the] one-third of the population of Libya which is black is also mercenaries. They are killing people, normal workers, mistreating them.”

Speaking in Addis Ababa, he added: “Maybe it’s looters, uncontrolled forces. But then the government should say something, condemn this. We want to see a signal that the African workers that are there, they should be evacuated.”

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Mr Ping’s comments follow concerns from international rights groups about beatings and detentions of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Sunday that the evidence it has collected “strongly suggests that [Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s] government forces went on a spate of arbitrary killing as Tripoli was falling”.

There have been no specific allegations of atrocities carried out by rebel fighters, though human rights groups are continuing to investigate some unsolved cases. Reporters have witnessed several episodes of rebels mistreating detainees or sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being hired Gaddafi guns, including an incident where about a dozen black men were detained and some were punched.

Council spokesman Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga denied Mr Ping’s claims that rebels were responsible for such killings. “These allegations have been made during the early days of the revolution,” he said. “This never took place.”