By Taha Zargoun
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Families of the victims of a Libyan Airlines plane that collided with a combat jet 19 years ago demanded the new Libyan government reinvestigate the crash that killed 157 people on December 22, 1992.
Muammar Gaddafi's government said at the time the mid air collision, which took place when a Libyan MiG warplane rammed into flight LN1103 as it approached Tripoli, was an accident. The pilots of the combat plane ejected, but none of the airliner's passengers and crew survived.
The families said they grew suspicious when the security forces immediately intervened and buried the bodies in a mass grave in a cemetery close to the crash site.
Felicity Prazak, the widow of Victor Charles Prazak, an oil worker who was aboard the Benghazi-Tripoli flight, believes the collision was not an accident.
"It was like a cover up, they buried them so quickly, they didn't want us to know what happened on this flight," said Prazak as she stood last week near the mass grave site in Sedi al-Saieh, south of Tripoli, along with her son Theo, 23, and daughter Tallena, 22.
"I was not allowed to come to the funeral ... and I struggled for 19 years to find out (what happened)," she said.
The family flew from London to commemorate the crash's 19th anniversary, but they were not alone.
Nearly 200 Libyans surrounded the mass grave which was fenced with metal railings and covered with a cement slab. The names of the victims were engraved on two marble panels at one side of the grave.
Some held framed pictures of the victims, gazing vacantly at the grave site, soaked in rain, as they wept.
"I have been to the grave but it has been on my own 10 years ago with my children," Prazak said. "Now I am here with the unity of the Libyan people and we are fighting to expose what Gaddafi did."
Gaddafi's 42-year dictatorship was brought to an end after a nine-month civil war supported by NATO air strikes. Libyans can now speak openly about Gaddafi's repressive actions.
It was the first time the families of the flight victims were allowed to gather at the site in such numbers and conduct a wreath-laying ceremony.
Most of the victims were Libyans along with 21 Egyptians and 19 from other mostly unspecified nationalities.
Fathia al-Hamali, a Libyan who lost her mother, sister, brother-in-law and niece in the crash, flew with her daughter from Benghazi for the event.
"We want to open this file," she said. "What was the reason? why did they kill innocent people?"
(Reporting by Taha Zargoun; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush)