After being liberated by the Libyan army last week from militias loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar, the country’s northwestern city of Tarhuna now gazes in shock as authorities unearth multiple mass graves in its vicinity.
So far, more than 150 bodies, including women and children, have been exhumed from the mass graves, Haftar’s last stronghold in western Libya before its liberation.
A total of eight mass graves, most of them inside Tarhuna city, have been found in Libya, according to data released by the UN.
Libyan authorities on June 5 announced that they found 106 bodies in a hospital in Tarhuna soon after it was liberated from Haftar’s forces.
A written statement by the army’s Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) Operation said that according to initial evaluations, the victims had been executed.
Health Ministry spokesman Amin al-Hashemi said there were signs of torture on most of the bodies.
Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha announced on Thursday that Haftar’s forces had burned some prisoners in containers and buried tens of others alive in mass graves, according to initial reports.
Others who were executed by Haftar militiamen were thrown into a water well.
Libyan security forces documented many “crimes against humanity” committed by Haftar’s militias in the city of Tarhuna, Bashagha said in a statement released by the social media account of the Burkan Al-Ghadab Operation.
“Nearly 160 bodies have been found in Tarhuna after being liberated by the Libyan army,” Buravi Masud Muhammad Abu Zeyd, a deputy chief physician at a hospital in the city, told Anadolu Agency.
The Libyan Ministry of Justice established a research commission to investigate the incidents in the city.
For its part, the UN Support Mission in Libya on Thursday (UNSMIL) called for a probe into the incident.
“UNSMIL notes with horror reports on the discovery of at least eight mass graves in past days, the majority of them in Tarhuna,” UNSMIL tweeted. “International law requires that the authorities conduct prompt, effective & transparent investigations into all alleged cases of unlawful deaths.”
The UNSMIL urged investigators “to promptly undertake the work aimed at securing the mass graves, identifying the victims, establishing causes of death and returning the bodies to next of kin,” expressing readiness to provide support as needed.
The internationally recognized Libyan government has been under attack by Haftar’s forces since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence.
The government launched Operation Peace Storm in March to counter attacks on the capital and recently regained strategic locations, including Al-Watiya airbase and Tarhuna.
* Writing by Zehra Nur Duz in Ankara.
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