Libyan Rebels Accused Of Attacking Civilians
According to The New York Times, Libyan rebels are being accused of attacking civilians in several captured towns:
Rebels in the mountains in Libya’s west have looted and damaged four towns seized since last month from the forces of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, part of a series of abuses and apparent reprisals against suspected loyalists that have chased residents of these towns away, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The looting included many businesses and at least two medical centers that, like the towns, are now deserted and bare.
Rebel fighters also beat people suspected of being loyalists and burned their homes, the organization said.
The towns that have suffered the abuses are Qawalish, which rebels seized last week, Awaniya, Rayaniyah and Zawiyat al-Bagul, which fell to the rebels last month. Some of the abuses, Human Rights Watch said, were directed against members of the Mashaashia tribe, which has long supported Colonel Qaddafi.
The organization’s findings come as support for the war has waned in Europe and in Washington, where Republicans and Democrats alike have questioned American participation on budgetary and legal grounds.
They also raise the prospect that the NATO-backed rebel advances, which have stalled or slowed to a crawl, risk being accompanied by further retaliatory crimes that could inflame tribal or factional grievances, endangering the civilians that NATO was mandated to protect.
Rebel officials in the mountains have played down the looting and arson in recent days. In an interview on Sunday, Col. Mukhtar Farnana, the region’s senior commander, said that reprisals were not sanctioned and that he did not know any details about them.
But Human Rights Watch said the same commander shared details with its investigators and conceded that rebels had abused people suspected of being collaborators as towns changed hands.
“People who stayed in the towns were working with the army,” the organization quoted him as saying. “Houses that were robbed and broken into were ones that the army had used, including for ammunition storage.” The commander added, “Those people who were beaten were working for Qaddafi’s brigades.”
This isn’t the first time there have been rumors of attacks on civilians by the rebels, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. Considering that the United Nations Security Council Resolutions that authorized the intervention in Libya speak to protection of civilians, this would seem to create a conflict between NATO’s support of the rebels and its supposed enforcement of the UNSCRs.