51 Libya rebels freed, describe torture
249 refugees also arrive in Benghazi on Red Cross ship
BENGHAZI, Libya — Dozens of detained Libyan rebels returned to their eastern stronghold on a Red Cross ship yesterday, detailing how they were tortured at the hands of Moammar Khadafy’s forces.
The ship carrying 51 prisoners also brought back 249 people who wanted to be reunited with family, Red Cross spokeswoman Deepa Fakhir said. It was not immediately clear whether there had been a prisoner swap.
“They electrocuted us, they tortured us in every possible way,’’ said Yousef al-Fetori, who had been detained in the capital of Tripoli. “They broke my ribs, hand, and leg.’’
The Red Cross spokeswoman denied that there were any prisoners from Benghazi being swapped on board.
However, a spokesman for the rebels’ transitional government said five prisoners had previously been sent back to Tripoli, though the rebels had not been aware the Red Cross was returning people to Benghazi.
The Libyan rebels began their uprising four months ago against Khadafy, who has been in power since 1969. The conflict has turned into a civil war, and Khadafy’s forces are accused of orchestrating deadly attacks on civilians.
A coalition including France, Britain, and the United States began striking Khadafy’s forces under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians on March 19. NATO assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31 and is joined by a number of Arab allies.
At least two explosions were felt in Tripoli last night, indicating new airstrikes, though there was no word on what might have been targeted. Earlier in the day, a hundreds of government supporters gathered and fired automatic rifles into the air in the capital’s central Green Square.
NATO said it struck multiple Libyan government command-and-control sites near the eastern oil town of Brega yesterday. The town has been a frequent flashpoint between rebels and Khadafy’s forces.
The alliance said government forces had moved into buildings in an abandoned area of Brega and started using them as military compounds to launch strikes on civilians, putting rebel-held cities such as Ajdabiya and Benghazi at risk.
“This continues to show Khadafy’s reprehensible tactics of placing military assets and operations at the heart of civilian neighborhoods,’’ said Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO’s Libya operation. “We have meticulously monitored these developments for a significant period, and it was time to remove this threat.’’
The rebels have taken over much of the eastern half of Libya. They also control pockets in the west, including the vital port city of Misurata, about 125 miles from the capital.
Meanwhile, judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, have said they will rule Monday on whether to order Khadafy’s arrest. A warrant would turn Khadafy into an internationally wanted war-crimes suspect at risk of detention if he traveled to ICC member states. However, the ICC has no police force.