x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Libya buries its past but not its problems

The interim government is under pressure to explain the circumstances of his death, while an accidental blast kills 100 people.

TRIPOLI // Muammar Qaddafi and his son Mutassim were buried secretly in the Libyan Desert yesterday in a simple dawn ceremony that ended a wrangle over their corpses that had triggered fears for the country's stability.

Qaddafi was killed last Thursday and his body had been on display in a commercial freezer while the National Transitional Council (NTC) debated what to do with it, until its decay forced them to close the doors on Monday.

"Qaddafi and the son, Mutassim, were buried at dawn in a secret place with proper respects paid. We will release more details officially later," an interim government official said.

Qaddafi's defence minister, Abu Bakr Younis, whose body had been on display with those of the former leader and his son in the freezer in the city of Misurata, was buried with them.

For days after Qaddafi, 69, was killed in the battle for Sirte, the interim government, members of Qaddafi's clan and the Misurata leaders holding the corpses had argued over what to do with the bodies and what Misurata might be given in return for releasing them, underlining communal divisions in the country.

The burial site of the man who ruled Libya for more than four decades was being kept secret to prevent it becoming a shrine and a focal point for his supporters, and to protect it against vandalism, NTC officials have said.

Ibrahim Beitalmal, a spokesman for the military council in Misurata, said that Islamic prayers were read and relatives as well as senior local fighters attended the funeral.

International organisations asking to see the site would be given access, Mr Beitalmal said. Further details were not available.

On the eve of the burial, as many as 100 people were killed in a blast at a fuel depot in Sirte, believed to be accidental but which would be investigated, officials said yesterday.

Scores were also wounded, according to an NTC commander, Leith Mohammed. He described the scene as "a heart-wrenching spectacle with dozens of charred bodies". He blamed the accident on a spark from a nearby electricity generator.

Facing mounting international pressure, Libya's interim leaders have promised an investigation to establish whether Qaddafi was killed in an execution-style slaying after being captured alive in the battle for Sirte, or whether he died in the crossfire.

Libya's chief pathologist, Dr Othman El Zentani, performed autopsies on the three bodies over the weekend and also took DNA samples to confirm their identities. Mr El Zentani has said Qaddafi died from a shot to the head, and said the full report would be released later this week.

* Associated Press with additional reporting from Agence France-Presse and Reuters