Libya's armed factions may have committed war crimes: Amnesty

A building on fire, which witnesses say was hit by a rocket, burns after clashes between rival militias in the Sarraj district in Tripoli August 23, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer (Reuters)

CAIRO (Reuters) - Human rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday it had satellite pictures indicating that rival factions in Libya had committed war crimes by shelling densely populated residential areas in the west of the oil-producing country. Libya plunged into anarchy when an armed faction from the western city of Misrata seized Tripoli in August after fighting with militiamen from Zintan who had held the capital's airport since the 2011 revolt that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi. The situation has calmed in Tripoli somewhat but factional fighting continues west of the capital as well as in the major eastern port city of Benghazi, scene of a separate showdown betwen pro-government forces and Islamist militants. Citing satellite images shown on its website, Amnesty said that fighters from both sides had indiscriminately fired rockets and artillery shells into hospitals and residential districts in parts of Tripoli and the western Warshafena region. "Lawless militias and armed groups on all sides of the conflict in western Libya are carrying out rampant human rights abuses, including war crimes," Amnesty said in a statement. "Armed groups have possibly summarily killed, tortured or ill-treated detainees in their custody and are targeting civilians based on their origins or perceived political allegiances," the London-based global rights advocate said. It named the Misrata-led Operation Dawn, which has seized Tripoli, and their main opponents from Zintan and the Warshafena regions as responsible for gross rights violations. A hospital and its intensive-care unit in the Warshafena area was damaged during a heavy rocket attack, Amnesty said. Its report was the second of its kind in as many months. On Sept. 9, New York-based Human Rights Watch said armed faction assaults on civilians and destruction of property over five weeks of fighting to control Tripoli could amount to war crimes. The North African country has had two governments and parliaments since the Misrata militia seized Tripoli, setting up its own cabinet and assembly and effectively splitting Libya. Western powers and neighbours fear Libya may become a failed state, unable to rein in former rebels who ousted Gaddafi in 2011 but now have turned their guns on each other to control the vast desert state and its energy wealth. Internationally-recognised Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said on Wednesday he was ready for peace talks with his Tripoli-based opponents if all sides made concessions. Thinni's government has retreated 1,000 km (625 miles) to the east where the elected parliament is also now based. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich)