Libyan Leaders Acknowledge Abuse of African Captives

Libya’s new leaders said Tuesday that 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 Moammar Gaddafi. The report says that Libyan revolutionaries still hold about 8,000 people, the majority of them Africans who are in some cases accused or suspected of being mercenaries hired by Gaddafi.

Libya’s new leaders, who received the backing of the U.S., France, Britain and other countries in their fight against Gaddafi, 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 said. “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 Gaddafi’s regime. One of the greatest challenges still facing the leadership is how to rein in the dozens of rebel militias that arose during the war and now are reluctant to disband or submit to central authority.

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.