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Libya's rebels court EU as abuse allegations emerge

Libya’s rebels are on a PR drive in Europe to shore up support and build up legitimacy on the international scene – an effort that may be undermined by alleged human rights abuses.

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The head of Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) met with the president of the European Commission as part of the TNC’s drive to achieve international recognition and legitimacy, as reports emerged detailing allegations of human rights abuses committed by rebel forces.

FRANCE 24 journalist David Thomson reported that he had witnessed events in Libya that confirmed Human Rights Watch (HRW) allegations of looting, arson and abuse of civilians by the rebels.

Thomson, who was following the rebel forces operating in the Nafusa mountains south of Tripoli, said he saw “scenes of devastation” behind the front lines.

“I saw villages burned and looted,” he said. “And as the HRW report says, some people, mostly black Africans believed to be fighting as mercenaries for the Gaddafi regime, were beaten and sometimes executed.”

He added: “The rebel forces may not be quite as clean-cut as the coalition is making them out to be.”

HRW said two of the towns in question were home to a tribe close to Gaddafi: "Al-Awaniya and Zawiyat al-Bagul are home to members of the Mesheshiya tribe, known for its loyalty to the Libyan government.”

On Wednesday the TNC forces rejected the HRW accusations.

Friends in Europe

The allegations could not come at a worse time, with the TNC on a drive to boost its ties in Europe and to increase its legitimacy on the international scene.

On Wednesday, the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) recognised the rebel council, and TNC leader Mahmud Jibril was due to meet with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

FRANCE 24’s Meabh McMahon, reporting from Brussels, said the HRW report, although critical, was not a PR disaster for the TNC.

“These allegations won’t do the rebels many favours but I don’t think they will change the international community’s position,” she said, adding that the EU, and in particular its foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, had been particularly keen supporters of the TNC from the outset.

“The statement this morning was perhaps a warning to the rebels not to abuse their power,” said McMahon. “It is also a reminder to world leaders to be prudent ahead of Friday’s ‘contact group’ meeting with the TNC in Istanbul.”

France, which was the biggest advocate of military action against Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi’s regime, was the first country to recognise the TNC.

On Tuesday, the French government reaffirmed its commitment to the TNC as both houses of parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of continued military intervention in Libya.

Last month, it emerged that France had made a weapons drop to rebels in the same area of the Nafusa mountains, which was sharply criticised by Russia and other critics of the NATO offensive against Gaddafi.

France has since stated that it has stopped delivering arms to the rebels.

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