ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The Libyan government rejected Monday allegations it had tortured detainees who had fought for Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, saying that if there had been cases of torture it had not known about them.
The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said last Thursday it had stopped its work in detention centers in the city of Misrata because its medical staff were being asked to patch up detainees mid-way through torture sessions so they could go back for more abuse.
Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour bin Khayyal said it was not the policy of the ruling National Transitional Council, which has promised to make a break with Gaddafi-era practices and respect human rights, to use torture.
“Gaddafi’s remnants committed actions that were an aggression to the revolution and to Libya and they will now receive the treatment they deserve,” Khayyal told Reuters on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
“As a government, it is not our policy at all to commit torture because we, the Libyan people, suffered under these policies and we strongly reject it,” Khayyal said.
“If there was torture, then it was not with the knowledge of the government or by the agreement of the government either. It may be actions by individuals, but we have not heard about the report you mention.”
Khayyal said his government had no problem dealing with forces loyal to Gaddafi who were not carrying weapons.
The MSF allegations are awkward for Western powers which backed the rebellion against Gaddafi and helped to overthrow him and install Libya’s new leaders.
The civil war which ended with Gaddafi’s death last year may have helped spread small arms around the region, according to a U.N. report which said some countries believed former fighters in Libya may have smuggled weapons into the Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara desert.
Khayyal stopped short of blaming certain countries for providing shelter to these groups, among them Libyan army regulars and mercenaries.
“We cannot say they are giving shelter to them, but they are there in their territories, especially in Niger and Mali,” he said, adding that a recent visit to both countries had been positive.
Khayyal said his government was trying to resolve the standoff in the tribal stronghold of Bani Walid by peaceful means. A militia commander whose troops were driven out of the town last week said his forces were massing to recapture it but were holding back at the government’s request.
“We are trying to resolve the situation there by peaceful means and we avoid confrontation, but if we have to then we will confront them,” said Khayyal.
He also said he would send delegations soon to review Libya’s investments in several African countries.
Under Gaddafi’s rule, Libya made major investments in Africa, some of which are managed by the $65 billion Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) through a $5 billion fund known as the Libyan African Investment Portfolio.
Editing by Tim Pearce