United Nations agencies prepared today to rush aid into eastern Libya as rebels told a senior UN envoy on the ground there that cities and towns were under siege and civilians being targeted by the tanks and heavy weaponry of Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s forces.
“Providing humanitarian assistance under current circumstances is very challenging,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva, announcing that the agency will send truckloads of aid tomorrow, including 5,000 blankets and 5,000 sleeping mats, to Benghazi, the eastern city that is the rebels’ main base, where people are camped out in schools, universities and with families.
“There are reported shortages of medical supplies and basic commodities in the eastern part of the country, with prices having increased dramatically,” he said.
The aid will go in on a convoy organized by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which plans to move 19 tons of lentils and 11 tons of vegetable oil in the next two days from Egypt into eastern Libya.
The agency, which has already moved more than 1,500 tons of food into eastern Libya and pre-positioned more than 6,000 tons more in emergency supplies, has airlifted to Egypt six prefabricated warehouses, six mobile offices and other supplies that will be pre-positioned on the Libyan border as part of contingency planning for establishing logistics hubs inside Libya.
Yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Elah al-Khatib, held his first meeting with rebel leaders in the eastern city of Tobruk as part of a mission that took him to Tripoli for talks with Government officials last week.
“They described the various aspects of the situation and pointed out sufferings and hardships endured by some Libyan cities and towns,” he said. “They reiterated their demand for lifting sieges imposed by Libyan Government forces on those cities and for a quick ceasefire there.”
They wanted to see an end to the use of tanks and heavy weaponry and to the targeting of civilians by Government forces, he added.
Mr. Khatib met with the chairman of the Libyan Transitional National Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil and other members, discussing with them last week’s Security Council resolution, which set up a no-fly zone over the North African country, authorized Member States to take “all necessary measures” for the protection for civilians, and called for an immediate ceasefire.
He reiterated Mr. Ban’s and the Council’s call for a solution to the crisis that responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people. Mr. Ban has said Mr. Qadhafi lost his legitimacy when he declared war on his people.
“The leader of a nation was deliberately and indiscriminately killing his own people,” Mr. Ban said today on a visit to Tunisia. “He was deploying his army against unarmed civilians.” The Council resolution “significantly advances an emerging humanitarian doctrine: the responsibility to protect,” he added.
“This doctrine grew in turn out of the terrible massacres of the previous decade, in which the international community had been accused of doing nothing. Those massacres included the genocides in Srebrenica, Rwanda and even Cambodia. After those terrible incidents, the world said, ‘Never again’,” he stressed, calling on the international community to speak with one voice on this issue. “Thousands of lives are still at stake.”
As requested by the resolution, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates today notified the UN Secretariat that they were participating in action against Libya. Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Qatar, United Kingdom and the United States had already done so.
Some 325,000 people have fled the violence in Libya, most of them non-Libyan migrants crossing over to Tunisia and Egypt since what started as peaceful civilian protests demanding Mr. Qadhafi’s ouster erupted last month. Only about 40,000 are Libyan nationals.
Libyans at the Egyptian border have told UNHCR they fear reprisal attacks by pro-Government supporters in eastern parts of the country. People are afraid to go out after 4 p.m., some have seen their homes completely destroyed, and mobile phone networks have not been working since Thursday, fuelling fears and generating greater uncertainty, Mr. Colville said.
On the Tunisian border UNHCR staff report hearing distant gunfire inside Libya and Libyan pro-Government supporters yesterday staged a show of support at the frontier. New arrivals continue to report facing intimidation and harassment at border checkpoints between Tripoli and the Ras Adjir crossing, with a group of Sudanese men telling UNHCR yesterday that they had all their money and possessions taken. But others say they could leave with little or no interference.
Significant progress has been made with repatriating third-country nationals from the Egyptian border and by the end of yesterday only around 1,700 remained, Mr. Colville said. Efforts to repatriate people from the Shousha camp on the Tunisian border, current home to some 4,700 people, continue.
UNHCR and the inter-governmental International Organization for Migration (IOM) have run some 265 flights to repatriate more than 58,000 people from Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria since the start of March.
WFP is expanding its food safety net programmes in Egypt and Tunisia to assist hundreds of thousands of people in communities hard hit by the loss of remittances previously sent home by migrant workers.
In Egypt it is making local purchases of 1,280 tons of rice, vegetable oil, and fortified date bars for distribution in the southern governorates of Assiut and Sohag, enough to feed 90,000 people for one month. In Tunisia, it is purchasing food locally for 280,000 people whose families have been affected by the turmoil.