By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - Libya on Thursday accused rebels of butchery and cannibalism, and NATO forces of war crimes, while firmly denying a United Nations report which found that its own troops had carried out murders, torture and abductions.
Mustafa Shaban, a Libyan foreign ministry official, delivered the attack and the defense of the government of Muammar Gaddafi at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The 47-member forum held a debate on a U.N. investigation which concluded last week that Gaddafi's forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The team also found some evidence of crimes by opposition forces seeking to topple him.
"Cities in the hands of armed gangs suffer terrible violations of human rights and heinous crimes," Shaban said.
"In Misrata, Libyan and foreign gangs who were arrested confessed to cutting throats and cutting off breasts of live women and even admitted to acts of cannibalism.
"NATO is violating human rights in Libya tantamount to crimes against humanity, crimes of war and crimes of aggression," Shaban said in speech before leaving the hall.
Maria Angela Zappia, ambassador of the European Union to the U.N. in Geneva, took the floor to reject Tripoli's allegations as "unacceptable," adding: "We firmly refute them."
NATO air strikes on Tripoli this week have been among the heaviest since bombing began in March. Government troops made an advance on the rebel-held western city of Misrata on Wednesday, shelling it and killing at least 12 rebels.
The U.N. commission of inquiry, led by Egyptian-born expert Cherif Bassiouni, said the civil war had caused a high number of casualties and it continued to receive testimonies of abuse.
"There have been acts constituting murder, unlawful imprisonment and other forms of severe violations of fundamental rules of international law such as torture, persecution and enforced disappearances that were committed by government forces and by their supporters as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population," he said on Thursday.
The U.N. team had found evidence of war crimes by Gaddafi forces, including attacks on civilians, aid workers, and medical units. Aircraft, tanks, artillery, Grad rockets and snipers were used, Bassiouni said.
He called for continuing investigations to allow the team to verify allegations on the use of mercenaries, child soldiers and sexual violence, including rapes.
International Criminal Court investigators have evidence linking Gaddafi to a policy of raping opponents and may bring separate charges on the issue, the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in New York on Wednesday.
"The (UN) report paints a stark picture of a ruthless government willing to use the most extreme tactics to stay in power," U.S. human rights ambassador Eileen Donahoe said.
"It accurately describes the system of government instituted by Gaddafi, a one-man rule built on fear, intimidation, and incentive based on loyalty," she added.
Jordan, which spoke on behalf of the Libyan rebel Transitional National Council, accused Gaddafi's regime of taking thousands of lives during what it called more than four decades of repression.
(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)