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Gadhafi loyalists no threat to Libya’s new leaders, general says

The chairman of Libya's transitional governing council said Monday it will name a commission to look into the killing of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, as the commander of the NATO mission expressed confidence in the new rulers' ability to handle any threats from remnants of the ousted leader's supporters.

The alliance's governing body has recommended closing down the Libya mission at the end of the month.

But international concerns deepened over the circumstances surrounding the death of Col. Gadhafi, and the discovery of an apparent mass execution by rebels of dozens of people in the town where he was hiding.

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Col. Gadhafi was in a convoy that came under fire from NATO warplanes as it gathered and tried to head out of Sirte.

What happened after that is still a matter of contention.

Canadian air force Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, speaking at a NATO press conference in Naples, Italy, said the convoy included 175 vehicles, some of them pickup trucks with guns perched on the back.

NATO commanders did not know in advance that Col. Gadhafi was among the people trying to flee. Instead, he said, the decision to bomb the convoy was made out of concern that remnants of pro-Gadhafi forces from Sirte would join up with other armed men who had fled the defeated Gadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid.

"This was a judgment, and then we went on from there to first of all break down the convoy, break it into manageable chunks and slow it down, and that's what we did," said Gen. Bouchard.

While some pro-Gadhafi individuals might still put up resistance, he added, the threat of "organized" attacks was over and the interim Libyan government is capable of dealing with them.

Libya's new leaders have said that Col. Gadhafi died from a gunshot wound to the head during a shootout soon after he was captured last Thursday in the coastal city of Sirte.

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But they have come under increasing international pressure to provide a more complete explanation since amateur videos circulated showing the bedraggled and bloodied leader was alive when he was caught by rebel militias.

Most Libyans wanted to see Col. Gadhafi put on trial, said Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, speaking in Benghazi where the Libyan revolt against the Gadhafi regime began eight months ago.

"Free Libyans wanted Gadhafi to spend as much time in prison as possible and feel humiliation as much as possible," he said, adding that the NTC will respond to international calls for an investigation.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reported today that its investigators have discovered the remains of 53 people who appeared to have been executed in a hotel in Sirte that had been under control of rebel fighters.

Peter Bouckaert, the rights group's emergencies director, said the badly decomposed bodies were found by local residents three days ago. Some had their hands bound behind their backs.

"The evidence suggests that some of the victims were shot while being held as prisoners, when that part of Sirte was controlled by anti-Gadhafi brigades who appear to act outside the control of the National Transitional Council," Mr. Bouckaert said. "If the NTC fails to investigate this crime it will signal that those who fought against Gaddafi can do anything without fear of prosecution."

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The brigades that took Sirte were from Misrata, a city that was pulverized by regime forces early in the revolution. Col. Gadhafi's body, and that of one of his sons also killed under mysterious circumstances when the city was overrun by rebels last week, are being kept in a refrigerated container in Misrata.

In an interview on Sunday with the BBC, Mahmoud Jibril, the second-in-command of the interim government, said the body would be buried with a day or two.

Sirte was under siege for nearly two months. Residents have reported that Col. Gadhafi's forces executed people suspected of siding with the rebels during that time, as they did in other Libyan cities before they were overrun by anti-Gadhafi forces.

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Foreign Editor

Susan Sachs is a former Foreign Editor of The Globe and Mail.Ms. Sachs was previously the Afghanistan correspondent for the newspaper, and covered the Middle East and European issues based in Paris. More

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