Qaddafi's secret burial doesn't end controversy over his death

Muammar Qaddafi is now buried in an unmarked desert grave. The circumstances of his death have raised questions about the new government's ability to respect human rights and prevent reprisals.

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Former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was buried in an unmarked grave in the country's southern desert at dawn today. Libyan officials said that choosing an obscure burial site will prevent his grave from becoming a shrine for his remaining supporters and from being desecrated by critics.

Mr. Qaddafi's body had been on display for several days in a cold storage locker, which Libyans flocked to in order to see for themselves that he was dead.

Two loyalists in the transitional government were charged with the task of carrying out the burial, Reuters reports. Qaddafi's personal cleric Khaled Tantoush offered the final prayers over the bodies of Qaddafi and his son, Motassim, while still in storage in Misrata.

Associated Press reports that both Motassim and former defense minister Abu Bakr Younis were buried with Qaddafi. Relatives and local officials from Misrata attended the burial.

That the burial took place unexpectedly and secretly runs counter to previous reports from NTC officials that they were negotiating with members of Qaddafi's tribe over where and how to dispose of his body, Reuters reports.

Motassim Qaddafi's death has largely allayed concerns of an insurgency led by the members of the family who are still alive. Motassim and his brother Khamis were the two most powerful sons, and without them it is unlikely the family will launch any sort of counter-uprising, according to Reuters. Another son, Saif al-Islam is reportedly hiding in the desert, poised to flee the country, and the NTC is powerless to stop him.

But international concern about the circumstances has not abated with his burial. National Transitional Council officials are still under pressure to conduct an investigation into how Qaddafi died, particularly whether he was executed after being captured alive but wounded in Sirte, or caught in crossfire, as officials claim, according to AP.

The disquiet over the manner of his death stems from concern about what it indicates about NTC's ability to rule justly, according to a separate Reuters report.

Few people in Libya -- where thousands of people, including civilians, were killed by Gaddafi's forces in the seven-month rebellion -- say they are troubled by the manner of his death.

But if he was indeed killed by his captors, it will cast doubt on the promises by Libya's new rulers to respect human rights and prevent reprisals. It would also embarrass Western governments which gave their wholehearted backing to the NTC.

Agence France-Presse reports that NTC leader Mustapha Abdul Jalil said a commission of inquiry is being organized to investigate Qaddafi's death, although so far the NTC is standing by its explanation that he was killed in crossfire. Human Rights Watch is also calling for an investigation into the death of 53 people whose bodies were found together in Sirte, seemingly executed.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the apparent massacre as well as signs of looting in Sirte, Qaddafi's hometown, are signs of trouble for Libya.

In one of the few intact government buildings in Sirte, Salah Al-Baida and Adil Nasr sit behind a huge desk in a deserted meeting room. Mr. Baida is the chief of the Sirte brigade, rebels from Qaddafi’s hometown who joined the fight against him. Mr. Nasr is his second in command.


“When the revolution began many people in Sirte loved the rebels from Misrata. Today it will be very difficult to find a single person from Sirte who loves Misrata,” says Nasr.

“They can do what they want with Qaddafi and his soldiers. We have no problem with that. But if the rebels act in the same way as the Qaddafi troops then the revolution has been for nothing.”

The Washington Post reports that an NTC spokesman said that "there is no particular mechanism" set up for an investigation. The popularity of the revolutionaries who killed Qaddafi, whether it was accidental or not, coupled with the government's weakness, will make an impartial probe "extraordinarily difficult."

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