Friday, April 08, 2011

Libya: EU Ready to Help UN Ease Grave Libya Situation

The Baroness Ashton | Credit: Wikimedia Commons By Jaya Ramachandran Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BRUSSELS (IDN) - The United Nations is deeply concerned about the humanitarian conditions along the Libyan border as well as health, food and security situation in Benghazi and on the whole in eastern and north-western Libya. To make matters worse, new mines laid by President Muammar Gaddafi's forces are threatening lives of children, women and men, warns the world body.

More than 13,000 people remain stranded in camps and at transit points in Tunisia, Egypt, Niger and Algeria along the Libyan border, according to the United Nations humanitarian body OCHA.

While the majority of needs at these sites are being met, aid agencies report that additional support is needed for the repatriation of third-country nationals who have fled the fighting in Libya.

"The $310 million Flash Appeal for the Libyan Crisis is currently only 36.5 per cent funded with an additional $1.4 million pledged," informs OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

As part of the humanitarian response, International Medical Corps (IMC) is delivering essential medicines and supplies in areas directly and indirectly affected by conflict, reports OCHA, adding that IMC is evaluating mechanisms to provide medical care for casualties of fighting in Misrata.

The NGO Libyan Appeal Team is supporting food security in Benghazi and eastern Libya with projects like promotion of animal husbandry and support of a local pasta factory, says OCHA.

The UN humanitarian body further informs that as hostilities continue there is a dire need for humanitarian aid and increased access to conflict-affected areas of north-western Libya. Of particular concern is the support for health facilities and protecting civilians from gender-based violence and human rights violations.

Of grave concern is also the landmine situation in Libya. Reports show that new mines have been laid by President Muammar Gaddafi's forces, and Libyans are removing them by hand.

"At the moment, there is no effective coordination for reporting and documenting landmine hazards in the country due to the security situation in Libya and the lack of available capacity," says OCHA.

It calls for community-based campaigns to sensitize populations to the dangers of landmines, unexploded ordnance and abandoned weapons.

Against this backdrop, European Commission officials said April 6, 2011 that the 27-nation European Union is willing to send ships to evacuate the civilian population of the rebel coastal city of Misrata, which is under siege from Gaddafi's forces, if UN humanitarian body OCHA makes such a request.

Misrata rejected Gaddafi's rule in a revolt in February 2011. However, in a violent crackdown, Gaddafi forces retook most of western Libya, leaving Misrata cut off and surrounded, with dwindling supplies.

NATO says Gaddafi forces are increasingly resorting to non-conventional tactics, using human shields hampering western-led aerial assaults approved by the UN Resolution 1953. Misrata is now a priority for NATO air strikes, reports said.

The European Commission -- executive arm of the 27-nation European Union (EU) --confirmed that the humanitarian situation in Misrata was "extremely worrying", but admitted that it lacked information on the latest developments.

EurActiv news channel quoted Michael Mann, spokesperson for EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton, saying on April 7, 2011 that a decision adopted on April 1allowed the EU to use military equipment for a humanitarian operation in a situation such the one in Misrata.

"We can launch this as soon as we receive a request from OCHA," Mann said.

Even before the no-fly zone was enforced, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said that the EU stood ready to help Libyans seeking refuge in Egypt and Tunisia and that it could consider evacuation by sea.

A Commission official told EurActiv that using ships to evacuate the civilian population was indeed an option in Misrata.

Georgieva spoke to the press on March 17, 2011 hours before the UN Security Council passed a resolution to authorise the imposition of a no-fly zone and the taking of "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.

She said that the EU would provide help on Egyptian and Tunisian soil to Libyans fleeing any massacre, but no large-scale evacuation of Benghazi was foreseen. The commissioner explained that since February 15, when mass protests began in Libya, 280,000 people had left the country, mostly across the Tunisian border (140,000 people) or the Egyptian border (120,000), and the rest via Algeria (11,000) and Niger (3,500) -- the vast majority of them were third-country nationals working in Libya.

The European Union sent envoys to the rebel-controlled Libyan city of Benghazi on April 5, as part of efforts by Western countries to establish better contacts with Gaddafi's opponents.

The mission, led by Agostino Miozzo, a high-ranking diplomat from Catherine Ashton's European External Action Service, was in Benghazi on April 5 to hold talks with various opposition groups, the Transitional National Council and NGOs, Ashton's spokesperson said on April 6.

France had already sent a special envoy to Benghazi, the rebel headquarters, and Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, met a senior member of the Rebel Council on April 4.

However, other EU countries have warned against recognising the rebels in Benghazi, and claimed that states recognise states, not opposition movements.

Asked by EurActiv to name concretely whom exactly Miozzo's team was going to meet, Ashton's spokesperson, Michael Mann, did not provide further details.

International media reported internal divisions over leadership within the Libyan opposition. Disputes and lack of discipline are reportedly damaging the stand-off with forces loyal to Gaddafi, reports said.

Evacuees from Misrata, the rebels' last major stronghold in western Libya, were quoted by news agencies as describing the city as "hell". They said Gaddafi's troops were using tanks and snipers against residents, littering the streets with corpses and filling hospitals with the wounded.

EurActiv reported that Paolo Scaroni, chief executive of Italian energy group ENI, was reportedly discussing energy cooperation with the rebels. Until the recent unrest, Italy obtained 25 percent of its oil and 13 percent of its gas from Libya, a former Italian colony.

Libyan rebels were expected to sell in the week started April 4 the first tankerful of crude since the civil war broke and the UN adopted an oil and arms embargo against Libya.

A EurActiv report said that since February, the UN had imposed an oil embargo, preventing oil sales, and an arms embargo, banning the sales of weapons to Libya. But the EU Commission explained that the oil embargo was aimed at preventing the proceeds from oil sales to reach Gaddafi's regime.

"If revenues don't reach the Gaddafi regime, we see no problems," Ashton's spokesperson Mann was quoted saying. He also said that the arms embargo covered the whole country, meaning that governments or firms had no right to sell weapons to the rebels.

However, Gaddafi has repeatedly maintained that the rebel surge is being fuelled by Islamist radicals and Western nations who want to control Libya's oil.