Gadhafi Regime: Coalition Strikes Killed Civilians

The Libyan government brought more than a dozen coffins to a cemetery along the Mediterranean Thursday, insisting the people died in coalition air strikes. U.S. and British officials have said their strikes haven't killed civilians. And some residents in Tripoli say quietly it's all a propaganda hoax by the Gadhafi regime.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And in Tripoli today, several dozen coffins were carried to a cemetery along the Mediterranean. Religious leaders scorned the United States, saying the American bombs and missiles had killed innocent civilians. But coalition forces have been skeptical of similar accusations by Libya's government. And some residents of Tripoli say quietly that Moammar Gadhafi's regime is indulging in some propaganda.

Here's NPR's David Greene.

(Soundbite of funeral service)

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

DAVID GREENE: The seaside funeral service today was full of anger. An imam turned to a crowd of Western journalists and said he had a message for the United States, Britain and France.

Unidentified Man #1 (Imam): They are killing our children. They are killing our women. They are destroying our country. What we should do, we will fight today and tomorrow and always against you. (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Group: Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar.

GREENE: It was the second time in five days that reporters were brought to a funeral here. This afternoon amid prayer and gunfire, 33 coffins were lined up in front of a crowd of men. Some coffins were draped in freshly cut flowers and green cloth - the color embraced by Gadhafi supporters.

After prayers, 13 of the coffins were carried to gravesites. The others were loaded up onto truck beds or into ambulances and driven away.

Reporters have been asking government officials for details about the victims, like a few days ago, when the question went to Gadhafi spokesman Ibrahim Moussa.

Mr. IBRAHIM MOUSSA: Okay. Are you recording this? Tomorrow morning, you'll have the names of 48 people for sure. I might have more, but I have them. I saw them myself.

Unidentified Man #2 (Reporter): Were those the people who were killed on Sunday?

Mr. MOUSSA: No. But things are different. People have the right to their privacy. If they say no, we don't want to publish the names of our kids. We don't want media to come to our funerals.

GREENE: So far, no lists have been distributed that we know of. Yesterday, the government did arrange a trip to see damage caused by airstrikes in the capital.

We were boarded onto a van today and told we were going to a person's house that was hit, maybe also a hospital where there were casualties. We drove around for a good while under sunny skies, stopping a few times for directions. And finally, we were just told by our government minders that they actually aren't taking us to any of those places, and we're headed back to the hotel now.

(Soundbite of beep)

Mr. MOUSSA: The international media center in this hotel is apologizing for what's happening right now. We are sorry. I think we have rushed you too fast to the place before we figure out where we're going. We are apologizing, and we are figuring where the right place is. And we will arrange another time to go to see it. Thank you so much.

GREENE: Coalition forces haven't ruled out civilian casualties, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this week that the Libyan government's claims of mass casualties were, quote, "outright lies."

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): The vast majority, if not nearly all, of the civilian casualties have been inflicted by Gadhafi. Most of our targets, virtually all of our targets are isolated, non-populated areas.

GREENE: That's also the talk among some residents of Tripoli. We spoke to several who said they felt the force of the bombs all this week but don't know of any neighbors or fellow residents who've been hurt or killed.

We won't indentify the people who spoke to us for their own safety. Residents doing unauthorized interviews have been interrogated by the government.

We reached this man earlier today by phone, and we asked him whether claims that many civilians were hurt are true.

Unidentified Man #3: No, no, no, no. That's not true. He's a very big liar. Believe me, it is not true. Nothing happened to the people.

GREENE: Shortly after that, we could hear other voices in the room with this man, and he abruptly hung up.

David Greene, NPR News, Tripoli.

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