Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libya: rows of empty graves - so where are all the victims?

The mourners had gone, but the graves remained as they were on Sunday: empty. The heaps of earth to fill them bordered the 23 vacant spaces, topped by the wreaths that were supposed to be placed in honour of the dead.

"These ones are now free," said the gravedigger, a short, puzzled government employee in orange workmen's overalls. "Anyone can use them."

With bombing raids continuing over Libya, there may still be takers. But the lack of occupants poses the biggest unanswered question of the allied air strikes: where are the victims?

Death tallies have been given by the authorities – though not for two days – and state television has shown pictures of bandaged casualties. But the authorities have so far not allowed visits to hospitals or morgues in Tripoli, and journalists who have visited the former on their own have found no one there.

The empty graves were in Tripoli's Martyrs' Cemetery, overlooking the Mediterranean, and the venue for one of the Gaddafi regime's eccentric attempts at news management. On Sunday, journalists were brought here for a carefully stage-managed set of funerals. As a crowd of pro-Gaddafi demonstrators chanted slogans, reporters spoke to two families who were burying their dead – a three-month-old baby girl and a 29-year-old man.

They said they were both victims of the bombing raids. It was impossible at the time to verify their stories, and has remained so. Officials say they will release full names and family details of the 48 who were killed across Libya on Saturday night – a figure later raised to 64. On Monday, they said the list was ready, but by last night it had still not been released. The number of dead from Sunday and Monday nights' raids is unknown. (read more)