U.N. investigators in Libya to probe rights abuses

TRIPOLI Wed Apr 27, 2011 9:35am EDT

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A team of United Nations investigators sought answers on Wednesday from Libyan officials about allegations forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi had committed human rights violations.

The three-member commission of inquiry met Libyan officials and said it would be pressing for access to prisons, hospitals and areas of the country where it suspects rights abuses are taking place.

"We have a number of questions dealing with indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, civilian casualties, torture and the use of mercenaries and other questions," said Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian legal expert and member of the commission.

"The commission of inquiry is here to inquire and find out from the Libyan government side what its position is with respect to several types of violations which ... (we) discovered during our field investigation," he told reporters after talks with Libyan officials.

Asked what access the U.N. team was expected to be given by the Libyan authorities, Bassiouni said: "We don't know that yet. We have put it all in writing and stated it verbally and we intend to push for it."

The United Nations, Western governments and some Arab states accuse Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi of ordering his security forces to kill hundreds of civilians who rose up in protest against his four-decade rule.

Libyan officials deny killing civilians, saying security forces were forced to act against armed gangs and al Qaeda sympathizers who, they say, are trying to seize control of the oil exporting country.

Bassiouni said he would also use the delegation's visit to Tripoli to raise the issue of foreign journalists being held in Libya.

Libyan authorities are holding two U.S. journalists, one Spaniard, a South African and a Canadian, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Officials say they only hold journalists if they are in the country illegally.

"I have ... given them (the Libyan government) a list of all the foreign journalists who are in detention," Bassiouni said.

"We have asked for an opportunity to visit them and to ask why they are not being released. Hopefully this initiative will have some impact on the journalists."

The commission of inquiry was set up in February by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, and is due to submit its report on rights violations in Libya by June.

Bassiouni said the commission has already carried out field investigations in rebel-controlled eastern Libya, as well as on Libya's borders, and was planning further trips to Tripoli.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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