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Libya's humanitarian crisis increasing cause for concern

04-07-2011 16:32 BJT Special Report:Int'l Intervention in Libya |

TRIPOLI, April 7 (Xinhua) -- The international community's concern about the humanitarian situation in Libya is intensifying, with prolonged conflicts between pro- and anti-government forces, plus intensified airstrikes by coalition forces. Meanwhile, there were also efforts by various stakeholders to broker a ceasefire.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday voiced deep concern about "the deteriorating humanitarian situation" in Libya and called for efforts "to ensure full access for humanitarian aid" in the North African country.

"The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation facing civilians in Libyan cities under military attack, including Misratah, Brega and Zintan," Ban's spokesman said in a statement.

"Conditions in Misratah are especially grave, with reports of the use of heavy weapons to attack the city, where the population is trapped and unable, as a result of heavy shelling that has continued over several weeks ...," the statement said.

Ban reiterated his urgent call for an immediate cessation of the indiscriminate use of military force against the civilian population and to ensure full access for humanitarian assistance.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN humanitarian arm, has noted that more humanitarian action is in dire need in the country, especially in the northwestern part, including the city of Misratah where fighting has lasted for more than 40 straight days, leaving hundreds dead or wounded.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in New York Wednesday that "the humanitarian community is extremely concerned about the protection of civilians, including from gender-based violence, landmines and human rights violations."

Valerie Amos, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Wednesday also expressed concern about the situation in Misratah and highlighted the need to evacuate people from the city and provide them with humanitarian assistance.

"We are very concerned about people trapped in Misratah, including migrant workers," she said in the statement. "Because of the heavy fighting, they are unable to leave the city for safer locations ... We need a temporary cessation of hostilities in the area so that people can get themselves and their families out of harm's way ..."

Some 13,200 to 13,600 people fleeing the fighting in Libya currently remain stranded at camps and transit points in Tunisia, Egypt, Niger and Algeria, Nesirky said.

NATO said it plans to intensify operations over Libya by flying 198 sorties over Libya on Wednesday, the highest in a single day since NATO assumed full command of operations on March 31.

NATO did not specify how many of them would be airstrikes against ground targets in Libya. The organization merely said that the "operational tempo has increased" and that protecting civilians in Misratah, a rebel-held city near the Libyan capital Tripoli, is NATO's first priority.

NATO jets conducted 155 sorties on Tuesday, including 66 strike sorties.

NATO military officials said that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces had changed their tactics to avoid airstrikes by hiding tanks and heavy weapons in urban areas, even using human shields to protect them.

Pro-Gaddaffi forces reportedly withdrew from the eastern oil port town of Brega on Wednesday after fierce overnight clashes with the rebels. Rebels said that, as of 3:00 p.m. local time (1300 GMT), severe clashes still continued west of Brega, and they were moving slowly towards the town because of some snipers left there.

Despite fighting and airstrikes, efforts by various stakeholders to broker a ceasefire in the country were also seen.

Former U.S. congressman Curt Weldon has reportedly arrived in Libya and was due to meet Gaddafi on Wednesday in an effort to negotiate a deal that would allow him to step aside.

The former U.S. Republican congressman from Pennsylvania said that he was leading a small "private" delegation "at the invitation of Gaddafi's chief of staff and with the knowledge of the Obama administration."

Weldon, who had visited Libya in 2004 after Gaddafi decided to give up his nuclear program, said in a New York Times editorial that during his face-to-face meeting with Gaddafi, he would persuade him to leave.

He also called for an immediate UN-monitored ceasefire between the pro-Gaddafi forces and the rebels.

The White House confirmed on Wednesday that Gaddafi did write to President Barack Obama appealing for a halt of NATO airstrikes, stressing that the conditions for a ceasefire lie in action rather than words.

The White House said that Obama had made clear the conditions for a ceasefire a number of weeks ago, which include "cessation of violence, withdrawal from the cities and the menacing sort of positions that the Gaddafi forces had taken."

The Libyan government on April 1 rejected a ceasefire offer made by the opposition, in which the government forces were asked to withdraw from towns they control.

Diplomatic sources in Turkey said Wednesday that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday met Libyan opposition representative Mahmoud Jibril in Qatar for talks over a possible truce in the conflict- hit country, diplomatic sources said here Wednesday.

Protests have erupted among rebels in Benghazi after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected the idea of arming rebels in London last week, saying that the mission of NATO was not to arm rebels, but to protect civilians.

Turkey's former ambassador to Libya Omer Solendil was said to be in Benghazi now. He would meet Libyan opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the opposition Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC), on Wednesday.

Turkey is seeking a ceasefire in Libya by holding talks with both sides of the war-torn country. Davutoglu met late Monday with Gaddafi's envoy, Libya's acting Foreign Minister Abdulati Obeidi, who came to Ankara following his talks in Greece Sunday to deliver the message that Gaddafi wanted a solution to the conflict.

A member country of NATO, Turkey has repeatedly voiced its opposition since Western-led air strikes began. However, after days of negotiation, all NATO member states, including Turkey, agreed to take command of the military operations in Libya.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Davutoglu nevertheless stressed on several occasions that NATO operations should be limited to protecting civilians and that Turkey would never point a gun at Libya.

Turkey is also carrying out humanitarian relief missions in Libya. More than 500 Libyans, most of them wounded, were evacuated to Turkey Tuesday by two military planes and an aid ship.

Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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