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Libya leaders acknowledge abuse of prisoners

By Vanessa Gera
Associated Press / November 29, 2011
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TRIPOLI, Libya—Libya's new leaders said Tuesday that some prisoners held by revolutionary forces have been abused, but insisted the mistreatment was not systematic and pledged to tackle the problem.

The acknowledgment comes a day after the U.N. released a report a detailing alleged torture and ill treatment in lockups controlled by the forces that overthrew dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The report says that Libyan revolutionaries still hold about 7,000 people, many of them sub-Saharan Africans who are in some cases accused or suspected of being mercenaries hired by Gadhafi.

Libya's new leaders, who received the backing of the U.S., France, Britain and other countries in their fight against Gadhafi, are eager to assure the world of their commitment to democracy and human rights. Interior Minister Fawzy Abdul-Ali acknowledged that abuses have occurred but said the new government is trying to eliminate them.

"We are trying our best to establish a legitimate system that is authorized to make arrests, detain and interrogate people," he told The Associated Press. "We are trying to minimize the possibilities of violations taking place."

Abdul-Ali said the government plans to create special security units under the authority of the central government that will handle prisoners. Leaders are working to bolster "the authority of the new government all across the country," he said.

Responding to the U.N. report, Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur also acknowledged there are problems with detainees.

"Are there illegal detentions in Libya? I am afraid there are," Abushagur told a news conference. He said any abuses have been committed by militias not yet controlled by central authorities.

Libya's new leaders have struggled to stamp their authority on the country since toppling Gadhafi's regime. One of the greatest challenges still facing the leadership is how to rein in the dozens of revolutionary militias that arose during the war and now are reluctant to disband or submit to central authority.

Abushagur also denied some news reports claiming that Libyan leaders are arming rebels in Syria.

"We are with the Syrian people but we are not going to send fighters or arms," he said.

Also Tuesday, dozens of people with relatives who went missing in Libya's recent civil war rallied in front of the main government building to demand that authorities speed up the search for their loved ones.

Most of the missing were fighters, but there are also civilians among them. There are an estimated 20,000 people missing, according to the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Authorities have started trying to find and identify the missing but face many problems. For one, they need to build a DNA laboratory from scratch to match genetic material from living people with the remains in mass graves now spread across this large desert country.

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Associated Press writer Rami al-Shaheibi in Tripoli contributed to this report.

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