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Libyan dissidents 'disappearing'

Libyan forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi have carried out a spate of enforced disappearances in an attempt to crush growing opposition to his rule, according to a report published by human rights organisation Amnesty International.

The study, called Libya: Detainees, Disappeared And Missing, details more than 30 cases of individuals who have disappeared since before protests began, including political activists and those suspected of being rebel fighters or supporters of fighters.

The cases are believed to represent only a small proportion of the total number of people who have been detained or have disappeared in the custody of Gaddafi's forces in recent weeks, Amnesty said.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa director Malcolm Smart said: "It appears that there is a systematic policy to detain anyone suspected of opposition to Colonel Gaddafi's rule, hold them incommunicado, and transfer them to his strongholds in western Libya.

"Given the circumstances of their enforced disappearance, there is every reason to believe that these individuals are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment. Colonel Gaddafi must halt this outrageous campaign and order his forces to abide by international law."

Father-of-two Atef Abd al-Qader Al-Atrash, a prominent blogger, was last seen attending a gathering near Benghazi's port on February 17, when he is believed to have been seized by forces loyal to Gaddafi.

A relative told Amnesty: "We kept trying to call his phone but never got through, until some days later when a man who spoke with a western (western Libyan) accent answered and said 'This is what happens to those who throw stones at us'. But Atef had never even thrown stones."

As rebel forces seized control of Benghazi and pro-Gaddafi forces retreated, they appear to have seized a number of protesters, including children. Amnesty has documented a number of people who were last seen in or near the Kateeba al-Fadheel military compound on February 20.

A relative of 14-year-old schoolboy Hassan Mohammad al-Qata'ni told the organisation: "I haven't slept since he's gone missing, nobody in my family has slept. We are so worried. He is just a kid. We don't know what to do, where to look for him, who to turn to for help."

Amnesty is calling on Gaddafi and those around him to allow immediate independent access to those detained to check on their safety and help protect them from torture, and to urgently inform their families of their whereabouts.

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