TUNIS (Reuters) - The bodies of 36 men found near the eastern Libyan town of al-Abyar in October appear to have been summarily executed by armed groups loyal to Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
Local police found the bodies on a main road about 50 km east of Benghazi in an area controlled by the LNA. Shortly afterwards, the LNA said it was launching an investigation.
Libya is divided between rival governments and armed factions. The LNA controls most of the east, where Haftar has expanded his power over the past three years, waging a long campaign against Islamists and other opponents for control of Benghazi.
Haftar's buy-in is seen as crucial for any effective political deal to unify the oil-rich North African country, and he has been increasingly courted by Western powers.
The bodies found near al-Abyar were the latest in a number of such cases in eastern Libya.
Relatives of six of the victims told HRW they had been seized from their homes on different dates by armed groups loyal to the LNA in Benghazi or other locations, the U.S.-based group said in statement.
All the relatives said that the victims bore gunshot wounds and had their hands tied behind their backs, and that families had been prevented from putting up tents outside their houses in Benghazi to receive guests during a traditional three-day mourning period, HRW added.
It cited a forensic investigator who reviewed pictures of 23 of the bodies as saying the injuries were consistent with executions at point-blank range.
"The Libyan National Army's pledges to conduct inquiries into repeated unlawful killings in areas under their control in eastern Libya have so far led nowhere," said Eric Goldstein, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
"The LNA will be condoning apparent war crimes if their pledge to investigate the gruesome discovery in al-Abyar proves to be another empty promise."
An LNA spokesman gave no immediate comment.
The LNA has said it is investigating the commander of an elite forces unit who is sought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly executing dozens of prisoners, though his exact whereabouts remain unclear.
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis; editing by Mark Heinrich)