Gaddafi accused of using cluster bombs
Pro-government forces in Libya have been accused by a human rights campaign group of using cluster bombs, which are banned by more than 100 countries.
Human Rights Watch said one of its photographers had seen three mortar-launched projectiles explode over a residential area of Misrata.
A Libyan government spokesman denied the allegation.
Government troops have intensified their siege of Misrata, the only west Libyan city still in rebel hands.
The BBC’s Orla Guerin reports from inside the battle-scarred city that local residents fear a massacre without greater action by Nato air forces to break the siege.
A meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Berlin has ended without a commitment from non-participating states to contribute warplanes despite an appeal by Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
The US, UK and France have said in a joint statement that the threat to Libyan civilians will not disappear while Colonel Muammar Gaddafi remains in power.
Russia suggested Nato was exceeding its UN Security Council mandate to protect civilians.
Releasing photographs of cluster munitions, New York-based Human Rights Watch said three projectiles had exploded over Misrata’s el-Shawahda neighbourhood on Thursday night.
First discovered by a New York Times reporter, and inspected by HRW researchers, the object photographed is said to be an MAT-120 120mm mortar projectile, which opens in mid-air and releases 21 sub-munitions over a wide area.
“Upon exploding on contact with an object, each submunition disintegrates into high-velocity fragments to attack people and releases a slug of molten metal to penetrate armoured vehicles,” HRW noted.
HRW said the projectile it had examined had been manufactured in Spain.
Steve Goose, HRW’s arms division director, said it was “appalling” that Libya was using such weapons, especially in a residential area.
“They pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterward because of the still-dangerous unexploded duds scattered about,” he added.
HRW said it could not determine whether any civilians had been hurt by the cluster bombs which “appear to have landed about 300 metres [yards] from Misrata hospital”.
The international Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted in Dublin in 2008 prohibits its 108 signatories from using cluster weapons because of the threat they pose to civilians.
Libya is one of the states which has not signed the convention, along with countries such as the US, Israel, Russia and China.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denied cluster bombs had been used in Misrata.
“I challenge them to prove it,” he told reporters in the capital Tripoli.
Referring to inspections by humanitarian groups, he said: “To use these bombs, the evidence would remain for days and weeks, and we know the international community is coming en masse to our country soon. So we can’t do this, we can’t do anything that would incriminate us even if we were criminals.”
There was no immediate comment from Spain, a signatory to the cluster munition convention, on the provenance of the bombs.
The fragments found in Misrata were apparently produced in a year before the convention was adopted.
Rebels in Misrata have been holding out against attacks for two months and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has stressed that Nato needs to act swiftly to prevent a “massacre” in the city.
He said Nato had been constrained by the need to avoid civilian casualties but had probably prevented the city from being overrun by Col Gaddafi’s forces.