Libyan rebels near Sirte as rights abuses surface

TRIPOLI – Libyan rebels on Sunday rejected an offer by Muammar Qadhafi to negotiate and said they have captured the eastern town of Bin Jawwad, forcing regime loyalists to flee after days of fighting.

The opposition fighters have threatened to advance westward on the coastal road toward Qadhafi's hometown of Sirte if tribal leaders there don't agree to surrender peacefully. The fighting in the east comes as the rebels consolidated their hold on the capital, Tripoli, some 560km to the west of Bin Jawwad.

With Qadhafi on the run, his spokesman Moussa Ibrahim called The Associated Press Saturday to say Qadhafi is still in Libya and offering to have his son, al-Saadi, lead talks with the rebels on forming a transitional government. In the past, Qadhafi referred to the rebels as "thugs" and "rats."

Ibrahim said he saw Qadhafi Friday in Libya but would not give more details.

Mahmoud Shammam, the information minister in the rebels' transitional council, rejected the offer.

"I would like to state very clearly, we don't recognize them. We are looking at them as criminals. We are going to arrest them very soon," he said at a news conference. "Talking about negotiations is a daydream for what remains of the dictatorship."

Meanwhile, more signs emerged of arbitrary killings of detainees and civilians by Libyan forces as the rebels swept into Tripoli earlier this week, including some 50 charred corpses found in a makeshift lockup near a military base that had been run by the Khamis Brigade, an elite unit commanded by Qadhafi's son, Khamis.

Mabrouk Abdullah, who said he survived a massacre by Qadhafi's forces, also told The Associated Press that guards opened fired at some 130 civilian detainees in a hangar near the military base, and fired again when prisoners tried to flee.

Abdullah, who was at the site Sunday, said he and other prisoners were told by a guard they would be released Tuesday. Instead, guards threw hand grenades and opened fire at detainees huddling in a hangar.

Abdullah said he had been crouching along a wall and was shot in his side, lifting his shirt to show his injury. As survivors of the initial attack tried to flee, they came under fire again, he said.

The killings by Qadhafi troops appeared to have taken place in the past week, as rebel fighters gradually took control of Tripoli, according to a witness and international rights groups.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Sunday it has gathered evidence indicating that Qadhafi loyalists killed at least 17 detainees and arbitrarily executed dozens of civilians as rebels moved into Tripoli.

Reporters touring Tripoli have found clusters of decomposing corpses in several areas of the capital, including a roundabout near Qadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya stronghold.

"The evidence we have been able to gather so far strongly suggests that Qadhafi government forces went on a spate of arbitrary killing as Tripoli was falling," said Sarah Leah Witson of Human Rights Watch.

The group spoke to another Tripoli resident, Osama Al-Swayi, who said he survived a massacre at a building of the Libyan Internal Security service in the Gargur neighborhood on Monday.

Al-Swayi said he had been detained by soldiers from the Khamis Brigade two days before the shooting. Twenty-five people were detained in the building, he said.

On Monday, detainees heard rebels advancing and shouting "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is great" he told Human Rights Watch.

"We were so happy, and we knew we would be released soon," he said. "Snipers were upstairs; then they came downstairs and started shooting. An old man (and another person) were shot outside our door. (The rest of us) ran out because they opened the door and said, "Quickly, quickly, go out."

He said the soldiers told them to lie on the ground. He said he heard one soldier saying, "Just finish them off." Four soldiers fired at the detainees.

"I was near the corner and got hit in the right hand, the right foot and the right shoulder. In one instant, they finished off all the people with me…No one was breathing. Some of them had head wounds," he told the rights group.

Human Rights Watch also collected testimony from witnesses who said they saw Qadhafi troops arbitrarily kill civilians, including a doctor and another man pulled from an ambulance at a checkpoint

AP reporters have also witnessed abuse of wounded Qadhafi fighters by rebels and their supporters. Earlier this week, eight injured men were abandoned in a bombed out fire house in the Abu Salim neighborhood, some pleading for water, but residents and rebels made no effort to help them.

However, in many other instances, Qadhafi fighters were treated side by side with rebels in rebel-controlled hospitals.

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