Benghazi - Armed groups, some linked to the self-styled Libyan National Army, have prevented thousands of internally displaced families from returning to their homes in the eastern city of Benghazi, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
According to the New York-based group, the displaced Libyans reported being robbed, arrested and tortured and also reported there were abductions at the hands of groups linked to the LNA, which is led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter.
"If proven, such attacks on civilians would amount to violations of the laws of war," HRW said.
An estimated 13 000 families fled Benghazi after Hifter launched a campaign against Islamic militants there in 2014, the group said. It called on Hifter to "act resolutely to end the attacks on civilians in Benghazi."
"Senior LNA commanders who have stood by since 2014 while their forces torture and disappear people and plunder their property can and should be held to account by local or international courts," said HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, Eric Goldstein.
In January, Hifter instructed his forces to facilitate the return of those who were displaced and denounced forced displacement and assaults on private property.
Hifter is at odds with Libya's UN-backed government which is based in the capital, Tripoli.
In a separate development, the municipal council of the western city of Misrata called on the UN-backed government to postpone its decision to allow internally displaced people to return the town of Tawergha, which was used as a staging ground for attacks on Misrata during the 2011 uprising that eventually toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
The Tripoli-based government announced in December that the Tawergha residents would be allowed to return in February. The decision followed a reconciliation deal between the Tawergha representatives and the city of Misrata.
Tawergha, located some 38km south of Misrata, has been a ghost town since anti-Gaddafi militias, mainly from Misrata, ransacked the town and drove out its residents, believing they had aided Gaddafi's forces during the uprising.
Wednesday's statement by the Misrata city council said the postponement was necessary because "media escalation from some parties" disrupted security arrangements.
Later, the UN-backed government said it's following the issue and urged parties to the agreement to coordinate with the relevant authorities to ensure the return of Tawergha residents.
Libya plunged into chaos following a 2011 uprising and is now split between rival governments in the east and west, each backed by a myriad of militias.