Nato: Civilian deaths weren’t our fault (this time)

Libya said three children were among 15 people killed in a Nato air strike on Monday, but the Western alliance swiftly denied responsibility a day after it admitted causing civilian deaths in Tripoli.

The government spokesperson accused Nato of a “cowardly terrorist act which cannot be justified” as journalists were shown damaged buildings on the sprawling estate of a veteran comrade of Muammar Gaddafi west of the capital — and the bodies of nine civilians, including two children, and the partial remains of several others.

But the alliance insisted no aircraft under its command had been operating in the Sorman area, 70km from Tripoli.

“We strongly deny that this thing in Sorman is us,” a Nato official in Brussels said on condition of anonymity. “We have not been operating there.”

Journalists were taken on an escorted tour of the estate of Khuwildi Hemidi, who served on the Revolution Command Council which Gaddafi set up when he seized power in 1969.

Civilian deaths
Later the journalists were driven to the Sabratha hospital, about 10km away, where an AFP correspondent saw nine corpses, including the bodies of two children.

There were also body parts of other victims, including a child’s head.

Journalists also witnessed a number of dead animals among the peacocks, ostriches and gazelles kept in the estate’s grounds.

A second Libyan official charged that eight missiles had struck the estate at 4am (2am GMT).

He said most of the dead were members of Hemidi’s family, including two of his grandchildren, and that the rest came from two other families living on the estate.

Hemidi himself escaped unharmed, the official added.

Stray missile
The new Libyan claim of civilian deaths came just hours after Nato acknowledged that one of its missiles had gone astray early on Sunday and struck a residential neighbourhood of Tripoli.

Reporters were shown the bodies of five of the nine people Libyan officials said were killed in that strike, one of them a woman and two of them toddlers.

That admission was a major boost to the credibility of the Libyan authorities two weeks after officials showed journalists a little girl in hospital they said had been wounded in a Nato air strike, only for a member of the medical staff to say she had been injured in a traffic accident.

It was also an embarrassment for the alliance which has led the bombing campaign in Libya under a UN mandate to protect civilians.

An alliance statement released in Brussels said “Nato acknowledges civilian casualties in Tripoli strike” during action targeting a missile site.

“It appears that one weapon did not strike the intended target and that there may have been a weapons system failure which may have caused a number of civilian casualties,” Nato said.

‘Deliberately targeting civilians
The Libyan government spokesperson accused the Western alliance of “deliberately targeting civilians,” insisting there were no military targets anywhere near the Al-Arada district of Tripoli that was hit.

But rebels fighting the Gaddafi’s four-decade rule blamed the veteran strongman for the deaths, charging that his forces were deliberately using schools and mosques to stash arms.

“We are sorry for the loss of civilian life,” said rebel spokesperson Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, adding: “We hold the Gaddafi regime responsible for having placed military armaments and rocket launchers near civilian areas.”

The rebels also warned that they were running out of money as their struggle enters a fifth month and called on governments in the Nato-led coalition to make good their promises of funds.

They have not yet received any of the roughly one billion dollars promised by international donors earlier this month, and urged benefactors to make good on their promises to provide funds, Ghoga said.

“(The) funds should have been deposited from last week and none have been deposited to date,” he said late on Sunday.

Negotiated settlement
Calls are increasing for a negotiated solution to the conflict, as the fighting on the ground has degenerated into a bloody stalemate.

After talks in Cairo on Saturday, the African Union, the Arab League, the European Union and the United Nations highlighted the importance of “accelerating the launch of a political process” to end the conflict.

Ghoga said a negotiated solution had not been ruled out, but that Gaddafi and his family could not be a part of it. — AFP

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