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UN experts urge forces of powerful Libyan commander to stop evicting residents, demolishing homes

CAIRO (AP) — United Nations-commissioned experts on Monday called for forces of a powerful Libyan military commander to stop evicting residents and demolishing their homes in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

The experts said in a statement that the Libyan National Army, commanded by Khalifa Hifter, has since March removed more than 20,000 residents from their homes “at a very short notice.”

They also said the destruction in the city center “is spreading in an alarmed manner,” with residents expelled and forced to give up their property or their ownership documents.

The demolition is part of a development project in the city, according to local reports.

“The intentional demolitions, including of historic neighborhoods, protected heritage sites and many residential units, have already caused irreparable harm to the urban architecture and living heritage of the city,” the experts said.

A spokesman for Hifter’s forces didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The experts said authorities in eastern Libya didn’t provide “any assistance” including compensations for affected residents, and that those who protested their removal were pressured or silenced through power cuts, harassment, and violence.

The impacted areas remained closed to the public, they said. Al-Wasat, a Libyan news website, reported earlier this year that the demolished buildings included Italian-style houses built during the Italian occupation of Libya in the first half of the 20th century.

Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, was the epicenter of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising which toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi who was later killed.

The city has become the stronghold for Hifter’s forces in 2014, when the powerful commander launched a major military operation against militant groups and other armed factions. Much of the city had been destroyed in the fighting.

Oil-rich Libya has plunged into chaos following the 2011 uprising and is now ruled by rival administrations in the east and the west. Each is backed by armed groups and foreign governments.