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HRW downplays mercenary “hysteria” in Libya

Human Rights Watch downplayed on Friday reports of African mercenaries playing a key role in the Libyan conflict and voiced concern that people of dark skin are being targeted.

After decades of financing and training rebels and liberation movements, Libyan ruler Moammar Qaddafi is accused of luring some 25,000 mercenaries from across sub-Saharan Africa to quash a popular revolt against his regime.

"Since the beginning, we have been investigating reports of African mercenaries and most of these reports have been untrue," Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for US-based HRW, told reporters.

"At this moment, we cannot confirm any incident of the use of mercenaries."

In cases where Libyan rebels have detained suspected foreigners, HRW has requested and been granted access to the detainees.

Bouckaert said investigations could not confirm that non-Libyan African mercenaries were in rebel custody, but neither could he rule out that mercenaries were involved in the conflict.

Instead he said "thousands of Africans" have come under attack in Libya, fueled by "hysteria" that mercenaries are involved in significant fighting.

"Many of these Africans have been the target of attacks by enraged Libyans because of these rumors," said Bouckaert.

"Many Africans are being caught up in this mercenary hysteria, which doesn't mean it is not happening," he told reporters in Benghazi, Libya's second city and the headquarters of the revolt against Qaddafi.

"There are dark-skinned Libyans in the south of the country who are largely loyal to Qaddafi because he did take steps to end systematic discrimination against dark-skinned Libyans," said Bouckaert.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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