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UN: 250,000 have fled militia fighting in Libya

CAIRO — A United Nations report on Thursday said four months of fighting by militias in Libya's two biggest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, has forced some 250,000 people to flee, including 100,000 who have been internally displaced.

The report released by the U.N. Support Mission in Libya and the U.N. Human Rights Office estimated that some 150,000 people, including migrant workers, have fled the country. The report says a "climate of fear" has made citizens reluctant to speak about militia abuses.

The last four months have seen a renegade general battle Islamic militants in the eastern city of Benghazi -- cradle of the 2011 uprising that toppled Moammar Gadhafi -- and powerful regional militias fight for control of the international airport in Tripoli. Islamist-allied militias have seized virtually all of the capital.

The surge of violence is the worst in Libya since rebels backed by NATO warplanes overthrew and killed Gadhafi. The conflict is rooted in subsequent transitional governments' reliance on web of militias — many of them former rebel brigades— to restore order after Libya's regular army and police were shattered by the uprising.

An elected government and parliament are convening in the eastern city of Tobruk, while parallel bodies formed of mainly Islamist factions — who were largely defeated in June elections — are meeting in the capital, further fragmenting the vast, petroleum-rich country. The government says it no longer controls its ministry buildings.

According to the U.N. report, warring militias have abducted members of rival groups as well as civilians, and have engaged in torture and unlawful killings. They use a "variety of weapons in populated areas," ranging from small arms to air strikes, the report said. It added that the poor condition of the weapons, lack of training and disregard for civilian lives have made Libya's war zones even more dangerous.

The fighting has also greatly disrupted daily life in the two cities, which now suffer from widespread power cuts and shortages of water, fuel and other basic goods.

Those displaced include thousands of members of the Tawergha, a community of dark-skinned Libyans accused of siding with Gadhafi's forces during the siege of the coastal city of Misrata, one of the bloodiest battles of the uprising. The Islamist-allied Misrata militia -- today one of the country's most powerful -- drove them out of their town near the city at the end of the war.

The U.N. report said the Tawergha were displaced again last month when militiamen attacked the camps where they were sheltering in Tripoli, abducting several people.
 

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