Mass graves evoke stakes of faltering peace push in Libyan city

Workers in the Libyan city of Tarhouna have spent more than a year exhuming bodies from mass graves that show the cost of a decade of conflict and the high stakes of a fragile peace plan that has left victims on the sidelines.

Tarhouna was held by the local Kaniyat militia from 2012 until its capture last year by pro-Tripoli government forces, leaving a grisly legacy that symbolises the North African country’s lost decade of anarchy and violence.

As peace process unfolded this year aimed at holding both presidential and parliamentary elections, the people of Tarhouna know they stand little chance of justice if Libya remains divided between warring factions.

But some also fear that the compromises required to stop the process falling apart could mean forgetting past crimes or even elevating those who ordered or abetted them.

“They killed all who refused to cooperate with them. They left no children or women. They left no one,” said Mabrouka Saleh Abu Kleish, 76, describing the tyranny of a group, named for the local Kani family that killed her brother and two sons.

Families of the dead and missing congregate each Saturday at the main roundabout of the city, where many buildings are still war-damaged and burned out, to seek a fuller investigation and bolder efforts to bring the killers to justice.

Not far away, workers in white contamination suits are still uncovering bodies from Tarhouna’s red soil, with 203 bodies found and 52 identified. City residents have filed 375 missing persons reports so far.

Usama al-Suwaih, an engineering lecturer, was among those protesting.

He said the Kaniyat seized his brother from a Tripoli prison in 2013, brought him back to Tarhouna and summarily executed him in his prison clothes.

Two years later the militia fired on his family’s house with a tank, killing his father, he said. His part of the family fled, unable to return until the Kaniyat left last summer.

But meanwhile three of his brothers, two uncles and two cousins were killed by the group, Suwaih said. One was accused of not offering condolences to the Kaniyat upon a family death.

“What made things worse was the discovery of mass graves in a rubbish dump, which is still operating,” he said. -Reuters

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