Libyan authorities have discovered the largest mass grave of rebel fighters and civilians since last year's civil war. Meanwhile the government has apologized for vandalism to a World War II Commonwealth cemetery.
A committee in Libya tasked with finding missing persons said Sunday it had discovered the bodies of 163 rebels who were killed in the 2011 civil war that ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
"The discovery of 163 bodies out of 400 missing from the regions of eastern Libya is an incredible achievement," Maher Warfalli of the committee of missing persons told AFP news agency.
The Associated Press quoted the missing persons office's head, Omar al-Obeidi, as saying the mass grave was in the eastern town of Bin Jawwad, a major battleground in last year's conflict. He also put the number slightly lower, at 157.
"This is the biggest (mass grave) so far," he said. "These are civilians who were protesting in their cities and killed by Gadhafi's men," he said, referring to armed rebels and residents of eastern cities.
Al-Obeidi said 80 of the bodies had been identified, and that the youngest was a 17-year-old male. The excavation of the mass grave began on Friday and concluded on Sunday, and was conducted in cooperation with the United Nations and the ministry of martyrs, wounded and missing people.
Libyaestimates around 7,000 people remain missing following the civil war.
Apologies for cemetery vandalism
Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office said Sunday that Libyan authorities have been "extremely apologetic" for recent vandalism of the graves of British and Italian soldiers killed during World War II.
Video footage posted to social networking site Facebook showed a group of men smashing headstones at a cemetery in the eastern city of Benghazi for Commonwealth troops that battled German and Italian forces in the war. One man in the video said, "This is the grave of a Christian," as he uprooted a headstone, while another voice could be heard calling the buried soldiers dogs.
Jeremy Browne of the British Foreign Office said the attacks on February 24 and 26 were "appalling."
"The Libyan authorities themselves are shocked too," Browne told Sky News television. "We have had direct dealings with them. They have been extremely apologetic and made a very strong commitment they will get to the bottom of this happening. They will try and do everything they can to resolve it."
Libya's National Transitional Council, which has close ties to the West after a bombing campaign by NATO helped depose dictator Moammar Gadhafi, apologized for the incident and said the vandalism was not in line with Islam.
"The NTC will confront this matter and, in line with Libyan law, will pursue those people who committed this act," the council said in a statement. "This action does not reflect Libyan public opinion because Islam calls for respect for other religions."
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission said it would restore the graves "to a standard befitting the sacrifice of those commemorated at Benghazi."
acb/dfm (AFP, Reuters)