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U.N. concerned by alleged abuses, prison break in west Libyan towns

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The U.N. Libya mission said on Wednesday it was gravely concerned by reports of the sudden release of 401 prisoners and acts of retribution in west Libyan towns captured by forces of the internationally recognized government this week.

The statement came after forces aligned with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) seized the towns of Surman and Sabratha on Monday, pushing back rivals loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) have been trying to capture Tripoli for just over a year, escalating an on-off conflict between east and west Libyan factions that has increasingly drawn in foreign powers.

“UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya) notes with grave concern reports of attacks on civilians, the Surman Prison break and release of 401 prisoners without adequate legal proceedings or vetting, desecration of corpses, retribution, including looting, robberies and torching of public and private properties,” the mission said in a statement.

“UNSMIL is following up the above allegations, which if verified, would constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The GNA said inmates had left Surman prison after pro-Haftar forces were driven from the town and before GNA forces arrived. It has called on local police forces to return to work and prevent violations.

The GNA’s justice ministry said 384 prisoners had escaped after a prison riot, and called for those who fled to hand themselves in.

In Tripoli, heavy bombardment could be heard into the evening on Wednesday.

UNSMIL said it condemned LNA forces’ “indiscriminate bombardment of Tripoli with rockets, many of which have landed on civilian neighborhoods, resulting in casualties”.

It repeated calls for a humanitarian pause, at a time when the divided country is trying to contain its first cases of the new coronavirus.

Reporting Tripoli bureau; Additional reporting and writing by Aidan Lewis in Cairo, Editing by William Maclean