April 27, 2011 / 7:56 PM / 9 years ago

Libyan rebels to free five Gaddafi soldiers

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan rebels will free five captured Libyan soldiers loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, a senior rebel spokesman said, in a goodwill gesture aimed at boosting the rebels’ credibility internationally.

Libya’s opposition forces hold as many as 32 Libyans and 72 foreign mercenaries captured during fighting in the uprising that began in mid-February, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the rebel National Council, said.

The five prisoners will be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross who will take them to Tripoli, Ghoga said.

“This is a goodwill gesture on our part to show our obligation to abide by the international law and for humanitarian reasons,” he told a news conference in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The rebels are keen to show that they follow international standards for the treatment of prisoners to try to boost support for their movement abroad.

The United States said on Wednesday it believed the self-declared rebel Libyan government, the Transitional National Council, deserved U.S. support but had not yet decided whether to follow France, Italy and Qatar in formally recognising it.

Ghoga accused Gaddafi of parading prisoners of war on television, saying the rebels would not make a similar display.

The rebels have accused Gaddafi of bringing in African mercenaries from countries such as Chad and Zimbabwe to quell the revolt against his four-decade rule.

Ghoga said the opposition had evidence mercenaries had been brought in from Algeria, including transport bills for as many as five plane trips a day made by Algerian planes into Libyan airspace after the uprising began.

Rebel forces have completed interrogation of the mercenaries and will soon bring criminal charges against them before the justice ministry, Ghoga said.

Reporting by Deepa Babington in Benghazi; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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