Chilling details of the Libyan migrant strike

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CAIRO (AP) – The United Nations on Monday unveiled new details about an air strike that hit a migrant detention center in Libya, killing at least 50 people.

The July attack, ranked among the deadliest attacks on civilians since the beginning of Libya's civil war, sparked international condemnations and war crimes charges.

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The 13-page report said that the conduct of compound officials at the time of the deadly attack may have contributed to the high death toll.

It also documented numerous violations of international law, combating Libyan militias and urged further investigations to ensure accountability. It was published Monday by the UN Support Mission in Libya and the UN Human Rights Office.

The Tajoura detention center, run by a militia allied with the UN-backed government based in the capital, Tripoli, has placed civilian refugees "in grave danger" in several ways, according to the report.

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Not only was the center in a military compound next to an ammunition depot, making it a prime target for opposition forces besieging the capital, but the center's guards also prevented detainees from escaping after the first air strike.

Witnesses told UN investigators that they tried to escape, but were stopped by guards and forced to return inside.

"There is reason to believe that migrants and refugees could have been saved and their right to life protected, had they not been prevented from leaving after the first air strike," which bombed the nearby arms store, according to the report.

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The second air strike directly hit the hangar full of migrants, killing at least 50 people and injuring more than 100 others.

Several witnesses claimed that the head of the detention center burst into the hangar, shooting and killing three refugees who tried to escape, the report added. Images from surveillance cameras show at least one guard brandishing an assault rifle between air strikes. The UN was unable to verify the claims of migrants. Officials questioned by the UN denied the charges.

At least 6,000 migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and other nations are locked in dozens of detention centers in Libya run by militias accused of torture and other abuses. Migrants looking for better lives in Europe often land in Libyan centers after dangerous trips at the mercy of traffickers who keep them looking to rescue their families.

Human rights groups have called for the total closure of detention centers, which are an integral and controversial part of the European Union efforts to keep migration across the Mediterranean at bay.

Refugees held at the Tajoura facility have long accused officials of various abuses, including forced labor. Many told UN investigators that militias forced them to clean weapons, load ammunition, unload military consignments and complete other dangerous tasks.

These violations of international law by the UN Agreement Government, supported by the UN, and its allied militias "in no way absolve the person responsible for the air attack", which aimed at a civilian website in a well-publicized list of places that should not be attacked, the report continued.

A panel of UN experts suggested last fall that a foreign patron of General Khalifa Hifter's eastern forces, who are trying to capture the capital, took responsibility for the attack.

Since Hifter launched his offensive last April to withdraw authority from the UN-recognized government, the United Arab Emirates, along with Egypt and other countries, have provided powerful weapons to spur their advances.

Although no country has been named, suspicion of the attack fell in the United Arab Emirates, which has a fleet of Mirage 2000-9 fighters that can operate at night and provide precision-guided munitions and missiles. The United Arab Emirates did not recognize playing a role in the attack.

Countries with interests in the long oil-rich Libya war met earlier this month in Berlin, where they promised to stop their interference and respect a widely violated arms embargo. Over the weekend, the UN denounced "continued blatant violations" of the embargo by several conference participants.

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