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Death toll rises to 140 after attack at Libyan airbase

By Allen Cone
Death toll rises to 140 after attack at Libyan airbase
Gen. Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, leaves the Russian Foreign Ministry office after his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on November 29. His spokesman said late Friday, the death toll rose to 140 in an attack of the Brak Shati airbase in southern Libya by government forces Thursday. Photo by Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

May 21 (UPI) -- The death toll in the attack of a rebel airbase in south Libya rose to 140, a spokesman for military strongman Khalifa Haftar said.

Originally the number of fatalities was listed as 60 on Thursday when a government-allied militia tried to take over the Brak al-Shati base controlled by the Libyan National Army.

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LNA spokesman Ahmad al-Mesmari said late Friday most of the fatalities were soldiers of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, an alliance that does not recognize the government in the capital, Tripoli. But he said the victims included civilians who worked at the airbase or were in the nearby area, adding that summary executions took place.

"The soldiers were returning from a military parade. They weren't armed. Most of them were executed," the spokesman said.

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That alliance has been in control of the airbase since December.

A militia spokesman said they had "liberated the base and destroyed all the forces inside." The prime minister's office has denied ordering the attack.

The attack broke an informal truce reached earlier this month when the LNA's commander, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, met the U.N.-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

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United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on both sides to exercise restraint to restore calm, the U.N. chief's spokesman said Saturday.

Guterres "is particularly disturbed by the high number of fatalities as well as reports of summary executions of civilians, which, if confirmed, may constitute war crimes," said a statement from Stéphane Dujarri.

The statement noted there is no military solution to the conflict.

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Martin Kobler, the top U.N. official in Libya and the head of the U.N. Support Mission known as UNSMIL, strongly condemned the deadly incident, saying the "vicious attack undermines political efforts."

"I am outraged by reports of significant numbers of fatalities, including civilians and by reports that summary executions may have taken place. Summary executions and targeting civilians constitute a war crime, which may be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court," Kobler said.

A civilian uprising in 2011 led to the ouster of long-time Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

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