A dozen bodies have been unearthed in newly found mass graves in the Tarhuna region of western Libya from where renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces launched an aborted assault on Tripoli last year.
“Four new sites have been discovered, two of them mass graves and two individual graves, in Tarhuna … and unidentified bodies have been exhumed,” the committee tasked by the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) to search for missing people said on its Facebook page on Wednesday.
A committee official, Tawfiq, told AFP journalists a total of 98 bodies had now been found since searches of mass graves were launched after the withdrawal of Haftar’s forces from western Libya in June.
At least 16 more mass graves have yet to be unearthed, according to Abdel Hakim Abu Naama, who heads a non-governmental association of Tarhuna victims.
Bodies are pictured during the exhumation by members of the GNA’s missing persons bureau [Ayman Al-Sahili/Reuters]In June, after footage posted on social media appeared to show summary executions and desecration of corpses, the Human Rights Watch called on Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt, to investigate alleged war crimes by his fighters.
Tarhuna served as the main staging point for Haftar’s failed 14-month offensive against Tripoli, which is backed by Turkey.
The warring factions in Libya signed a “permanent ceasefire” accord on Friday after the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva.
The Tripoli-based GNA and rival forces led by Haftar agreed to withdraw from the front lines, start demobilising armed groups and set about integrating them into the state.
Libya descended into a complex civil war after the 2011 overthrow of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, eventually splitting between the GNA and the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).
Both sides are also supported by an array of fractious militias, though the administrations often struggle to control them. In much of the country, heavily armed militias hold sway and have repeatedly undermined ceasefire attempts.
Crucially, the ceasefire deal also calls for the departure of all foreign forces from Libyan soil within three months.
Bodies being exhumed from a mass grave in Tarhouna city [Ayman Al-Sahili/Reuters]