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Sixty-five migrants' bodies found in Libya mass grave, IOM says

(Reuters) - At least 65 migrants' bodies have been discovered in a mass grave in southwest Libya, the International Organization for Migration said on social media platform X on Friday.

IOM said in a statement the circumstances of the migrants' death and nationalities was unknown "but it is believed that they died in the process of being smuggled through the desert."

Libya has turned into a transit route for migrants fleeing conflict and poverty to Europe across the Mediterranean following the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

In an unverified message on Facebook, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the interior ministry in Tripoli on Monday posted drone footage of a desert area, showing white markings and yellow tape around the remains of bodies with numbers on them.

The CID said the bodies were found in al-Jahriya valley in Al Shuwairf town, about 421 km (262 miles) south of Tripoli.

Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

The department said that after taking DNA samples, all the bodies were buried in a cemetery on instructions from the attorney general of the appeals chamber in Gharyan town.

According to the IOM, at least 3,129 deaths and disappearances of migrants were recorded in 2023 along the Mediterranean route, which it described as "the deadliest migratory route."

"Without regular pathways that provide opportunities for legal migration, such tragedies will continue to be a feature along this route," said IOM.

The organisation has called on all governments and authorities along the route "to enhance regional cooperation to ensure the safety and protection of migrants."

Oil-rich Libya is home to a total of 704,369 migrants from over 43 nationalities according to data collected in 100 Libyan municipalities in mid-2023, U.N. figures show.

(This story has been corrected to clarify that the footage was posted on Monday, not Wednesday, in paragraph 4)

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Hugh Lawson, William Maclean)