Rescuers transport a casualty who was wounded during an air strike on a food supply storage area, to Zawura Hospital in Zawura, Dec. 2, 2014.
Rescuers transport a casualty who was wounded during an air strike on a food supply storage area, to Zawura Hospital in Zawura, Dec. 2, 2014.

GENEVA - Fighting in Libya has killed hundreds of civilians since August, and armed groups in the North African country may be liable for war crimes, the United Nations warned Tuesday.

The North African country is struggling with fighting on several fronts as brigades of former rebels who battled side by side to oust Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 now clash for political power and a share of oil revenues.

The conflict has driven at least 120,000 people from their homes and sparked a humanitarian crisis, said a joint report by the U.N. human rights office and U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). It also documents shelling of civilian areas and raises the issue of impunity in a country administered by two parallel governments.

The toll includes an estimated 100 people killed and 500 wounded in fighting between rival armed groups in Warshefana, an area near Tripoli "perceived to be harboring many Gadhafi supporters as well as common criminals" from late August to early October. Another 170 were killed and hundreds injured in fighting in the Nafusa mountains to the southwest, the report said.

Some 450 people have been killed in Benghazi since fighting escalated in mid-October. Hospitals there have been shelled or occupied by armed groups.

Since mid-October, the Libyan army and forces loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar have been waging a war to retake the eastern coastal city, held by Islamist groups.

A top United Nations official says the rival factions have agreed in principle to hold a new round of peace talks in early January.

U.N. Libyan envoy Bernadino Leon told the 15-member Security Council that the long-delayed talks are set for January 5, and will focus on a cease-fire, a national unity government and a new constitution.

This latest U.N. assessment also details wide-ranging abuse throughout the country, describing armed groups terrorizing the civilian population and preventing politicians from creating a society based on the rule of law.

Speaking at the release of the report in Geneva, U.N. Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani directly addressed the heads of Libya's warring factions.

"As a commander of an armed group, you are criminally liable under international law if you commit or order the commission of grave human rights abuses or fail to take reasonable and necessary measures to prevent or punish their commission," she said.

U.N. officials are calling for an immediate cease-fire.

Rebel group Libya Dawn seized the capital Tripoli in August, forcing the internationally recognized government into eastern Libya. Shamdasani said the chaos created by having two administrations creates an environment ripe for egregious rights violations.

"There is a serious lack of law and order," she said, citing reports of indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, the abduction of civilians, torture, executions and the deliberate destruction of property. "There is absolutely no accountability, so these violations are continuing with impunity and there has been no effort to really stop that."

Shamdasani also described reports of rebel fighters wearing the uniforms of humanitarian workers and using a Libyan Red Crescent Society ambulance in a suicide attack.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra-ad Al Hussein echoed Shamdasani's alarm, warning all parties found in violation of human rights violations as criminally liable subject to investigation by International Criminal Court officials.

Most Libya-based U.N. staff have been evacuated to Tunisia to monitor the situation from there.

Information for this latest report was compiled from first-hand observations in Libya as well as testimony collected in Tunis from human rights defenders, institutions, victims and their families.

The report says armed groups have targeted political and human rights activists, media professionals and other public figures, and that many have been abducted, threatened or had their homes looted or burned.

An earlier version of this story erroneously stated, based on information provided by the United Nations, that a Red Crescent ambulance was used to carry out a suicide attack on a checkpoint. The U.N. has removed the original report from its website. VOA reporter Lisa Schlein contributed reporting from Geneva; other portions of this report come from Reuters.

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