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UN Panel: Libyan Forces, Opposition Committed War Crimes

Rebel fighters fire a heavy machine gun toward forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at Misrata's western front line, some 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the city center, June 1, 2011
Rebel fighters fire a heavy machine gun toward forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at Misrata's western front line, some 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the city center, June 1, 2011

A U.N. panel investigating the conflict in Libya says forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and opposition forces in the country have committed war crimes.

The report, published Wednesday by three U.N.-appointed experts, says the violations committed by pro-Gadhafi forces were severe enough to also constitute crimes against humanity.  They said violations by opposition armed forces, however, were not severe or widespread enough to be considered crimes against humanity.

Last month, the chief prosecutor the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Libyan leader Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and Intelligence Chief Abdullah al-Senoussi for alleged crimes against humanity.

Libyan officials dismissed the ICC request, saying the court has no jurisdiction in the country.

The U.N. report came the same day that NATO extended its military mission in Libya for 90 days.   

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the move is meant to send a clear message to the Gadhafi government that the pressure to oust him will continue.

The current NATO mission, comprising of airstrikes and enforcement of a no-fly zone, would have ended in late June. The extension carries it to September.

Meanwhile, in the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi, witnesses say a large blast has damaged the Tibesti hotel.  The hotel is where foreign diplomats holding talks with rebel leaders stay while in the city.  There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Also Wednesday, another high-ranking Libyan official announced that he has parted ways with the government.  Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem said in Rome that he has left his country and his job but has not yet decided if he will join the anti-Gadhafi rebels.

Last month, Libyan officials denied reports that Ghanem had defected in Tunisia, saying instead that he was abroad on business.  His announcement in Rome comes two days after eight Libyan army officers held a news conference there to say they had left Libya's government forces.

U.S. State Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to the United Arab Emirates next week for a meeting of the 22-nation Libyan Contact Group.  Earlier this month, the group agreed to set up a fund to help provide Libyan rebels with food, medicine and military supplies in the areas under their control.

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