At least 40 killed in strike on Libya migrant detention centre
TRIPOLI - An air strike hit a detention centre for mainly African migrants in a suburb of the Libyan capital of Tripoli late on Tuesday, killing at least 40 people and wounding 80, a health official said.
Libya is a main departure point for migrants from Africa fleeing poverty and war and trying to reach Italy by boat, but many are picked up and brought back by the Libyan coast guard, supported by the European Union.
Thousands are held in government-run detention centres in what human rights groups and the United Nations say are often inhuman conditions.
The UNHCR refugee agency had already called in May for the Tajoura centre, which holds 600 people, to be evacuated after a projectile landed less than 100 metres away, injuring two migrants.
Photos published on Tuesday showed African migrants undergoing surgery in a hospital after the strike. Others lay on beds, some covered in dust or with bandaged limbs.
Malek Mersek, spokesman for a state emergency medical service, said 40 people had been killed and 80 wounded in the strike on the detention centre, which stands next to a military camp.
The UN refugee agency said at least 30 migrants had died and dozens were injured, but that the death toll could rise. It could not confirm who had launched the attack.
Tajoura, east of Tripoli's centre, is home to several camps belonging to forces allied to the internationally recognised government, which have been targeted by air strikes for weeks.
UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi tweeted that he had three messages concerning the detained migrants:
"They must NOT be detained; civilians must NOT be a target; Libya is NOT a safe place of return. And of course, states with influence must cooperate to end conflict, rather than fuel it."
The chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, demanded an immediate ceasefire and an independent investigation "to ensure that those responsible for this horrific crime of innocent civilians be brought to account".
In a statement, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) blamed the Libyan National Army (LNA) for the incident.
An LNA official denied that his force had hit the detention centre, saying that militias allied to Tripoli's GNA had shelled it after a precision air strike by the LNA on a military camp.
The LNA air campaign has failed to take Tripoli in three months of fighting, and last week lost its main forward base in Gharyan to Tripoli's forces.
Both sides enjoy military support from regional powers, according to diplomats.
The conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, scupper UN plans for an election to end the rivalry between the parallel administrations in east and west - and create a security void that Islamist militants could fill.