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United Nations - About 4 000 people are still being held in militia detention centers in Libya, often in secret and many are tortured, a UN envoy said on Thursday.

Ian Martin, head of the UN mission to Libya, said good progress was being made toward holding the country's first democratic election, but militia prisons were one of a number of “serious obstacles” to establishing the rule of law.

“Cases of mistreatment and torture of detainees continue,” Martin told the UN Security Council. The UN mission has raised “deep concern” over the deaths in April of three people at a detention center in Misrata which comes under government authority.

Martin said there was “credible information” that the deaths were caused by torture and that at least seven other people had been tortured at the same prison.

The head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, or UNSMIL, said there had also been allegations of torture at prisons in Tripoli, Zawiya and Zintan.

The UN said in October that 7 000 prisoners were held by the revolutionary brigades which led the fight to overthrown Moamer Kadhafi last year.

“Perhaps around 4 000” remain in formal and secret prisons around the country where a transitional government is slowly getting a grip on power, Martin said.

The justice ministry now has 31 detention facilities with about 3 000 inmates, he said. But control of many of these is shared with the revolutionary militias which have retained significant powers.

“Addressing these practices should be a top government priority in pursuit of a new culture of human rights and the rule of law,” said Martin. Kadhafi's government was notorious for rights abuses.

The envoy also raised concerns about some aspects of new laws which grant amnesty to people involved in overthrowing Kadhafi and which criminalize “the glorification” of the dictator who was killed in October.

Martin said that as of Wednesday night, just over one million people had registered for the country's first ever democratic election.

The ruling National Transitional Council has pledged to hold the election for a 200-seat constituent assembly in June, but diplomats said there are worries that it may have to be delayed.

Martin said there was a potential voting list of between three and 3.5 million people.

Registration opened on May 1 and the UN envoy said women made up only 36 percent of those who had put their names down so far. - Sapa-AFP