Libyan National Army (LNA) forces loyal to the Russian-backed strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar reportedly killed civilians, including children, and set dozens of homes ablaze after capturing Libya’s southern city of Murzuq over the weekend, two lawmakers representing each of the rival governments asserted.
Haftar has gained control of much of eastern Libya with the help of Russia, neighboring Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among other countries. He has surfaced as the top rival of the internationally recognized government based out of Tripoli.
Haftar represents the Tobruk-based rival government in eastern Libya.
Human rights groups have accused the LNA of committing war crimes in the past. Citing eyewitnesses and two members of parliament (MP), each representing the two rival governments in Libya, news outlets report that Haftar’s LNA has killed at least 19 civilians and looted and burned up to 100 homes after taking control of the Murzuq (or Merzek) region in southern Libya last Friday.
Mohamed Linu, a member of Libya’s internationally recognized parliament, indicated to Al Jazeera that the LNA “killed civilians, including children, and set fire to more than 30 houses in the southern city of Murzuq.”
“The politician said that farms were also destroyed and more than 100 cars were stolen,” Linu added.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) quoted Mohammad Adam Lino from the pro-Haftar rival government as telling Libyan television that the LNA “burnt down 90 houses, including those of my brothers and father.”
“He added that the bodies of 19 people had been transferred to [a] hospital in Merzek region in southern Libya,” AA noted.
The Tobruk-based parliament did issue a statement condemning the attack and conceding that Murzuq’s home was a target, the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) reported.
Citing eyewitnesses, MEMO noted that the LNA troops “attacked and looted” civilian properties in Murzuq.
One of the witnesses told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that “more than 100 houses in Al-Desa neighborhood and 17 others in Sokra were burned and looted, in addition to the arrest of 50 people at least until Sunday morning.”
Last month, Haftar’s LNA launched an offensive in southern Libya, claiming that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) operated in the area. The battle in Murzuq, however, pinned the LNA against the South Protection Force, which is mainly comprised of armed elements from the local Toubou tribes, MEMO reported.
Libya descended into chaos after the U.S.- and NATO-backed overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 became a fertile ground for the likes of ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Haftar served under Gaddafi before going into exile in the United States after falling out of the dictator’s favor. News outlets have compared Haftar to the dictator, crowning him the “New Gaddafi.”
Since 2011, Libya’s political turmoil and deteriorating security conditions have yielded two rival governments — one in Tobruk led by Haftar and the other in internationally recognized Tripoli.
Earlier this month, pro-Haftar troops took control of the biggest oilfield in Libya — Sharara — further cementing their power.
At the end of January, the Geneva-based Libyan group, Human Rights Solidarity, accused the LNA of “the war crimes of murder, mutilation, torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and the targeting of civilians,” according to the Independent. The LNA denied the allegations.
Russia has reportedly provided military assistance to strongman Haftar and his forces. Moscow denies this.