UN, EU speed up humanitarian assessments in Libya

Updated: 2011-03-07 15:36


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BEIJING - The United Nations and the European Union (EU) are ratcheting up efforts to ensure humanitarian assistance to unrest-hit Libya, as the Libyan government reportedly regained control of the western city of Misurata on Sunday.

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State TV said forces loyal to Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi recaptured Misurata, 200 km east of the capital Tripoli, after several days of fighting with rebels.

The Al-Jazeera news network cited eyewitnesses as saying leaflets were dropped over the city warning residents against joining unrest aimed at bringing down Gaddafi.

Meanwhile, Xinhua reporters in Tripoli heard heavy gunfire beginning early Sunday morning, which authorities later said was Gaddafi supporters celebrating the recapture of Misurata. Supporters also set off fireworks, drove cars around the city, honking horns, and thousands of them gathered at the Green Square in downtown Tripoli to mark the "victory."

However, the Al-Arabiya news network filed conflicting reports, saying Misurata was still in the hands of the rebels.

As the fate of Misurata remains unclear, Valerie Amos, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, on Sunday called for urgent humanitarian access to the country's third largest city.

Amos traveled to the Tunisia-Libya border Saturday to review the ongoing relief efforts for people fleeing Libya and assess what more humanitarian agencies could do for those still stranded in the border areas.

"Humanitarian organizations need urgent access now. People are injured and dying and need help immediately," she said. "I call on the authorities to provide access without delay to allow aid workers to help save lives."

"I would also remind all concerned to ensure that civilians are protected from harm," she said.

On Monday in Geneva, Amos will launch the regional flash appeal covering Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Niger. It will focus on the border areas, population movements, humanitarian needs, security, health, water, protection and communication, and will cover a three-month period.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed former Jordanian foreign minister Abdelilah Al-Khatib as his special envoy to Libya, according to a statement issued by Ban's spokesman on Sunday.

The envoy is "to undertake urgent consultations with the authorities in Tripoli and in the region on the immediate humanitarian situation as well as the wider dimensions of the crisis."

During a telephone conversation with Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa earlier on Sunday, Ban discussed with him the increasingly troubling humanitarian situation, in particular the plight of migrant workers, and called on the authorities to ensure the safety of all foreign nationals and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations to people in need.

Ban suggested the immediate dispatch of a humanitarian assessment team to Tripoli, a request that was agreed to by the foreign minister.

Meanwhile, he strongly appealed for the full compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1970.

The resolution, unanimously adopted by the Security Council on Feb 26, imposed an arms embargo against Libya and a travel ban and asset freeze directed at Gaddafi and his key family members.

But it was officially rejected on Sunday by the Libyan government, which expressed "deep regret" over the position of the UN Security Council.

The resolution was based on external media reports, rather than on accurate, well-documented and verifiable information whose credibility has been ascertained by an independent and impartial fact-finding committee, an official statement said.

It said the resolution contravenes the provisions of the UN Charter concerning the fact that the Security Council has no jurisdiction over the internal affairs of states.

The statement also reiterated the government's commitments to the respect of human rights, and said the government had taken all necessary steps to safeguard all foreigners residing in Libya.

Also on Sunday, the EU's foreign policy high representative Catherine Ashton sent a technical fact-finding mission to Libya, the first international mission of its kind since chaos started.

The team, led by Agostino Miozzo, managing director in the European External Action Service (EEAS) for Crisis Response and Operational Coordination, aims to assess the humanitarian and evacuation efforts on the ground in Libya to make an appraisal of what may be needed in terms of additional support.

"I have decided to dispatch this high-level mission to provide me with first-hand, real-time information to feed into the discussions leading up to Friday's extraordinary European Council when I will update heads of state and government on the situation, " Ashton said.


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