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Top UN official urges pause in fighting in Libya to allow aid to reach those in need

By United Nations
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Civilians continue to be attacked during the conflict in Libya despite repeated requests from the international community that parties to the conflict refrain from targeting non-combatants, the United Nations humanitarian chief said today, calling for a halt in fighting to allow the delivery of aid.

“The Security Council must continue to insist that all parties to this conflict respect international humanitarian law and ensure civilians are spared,” said Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in a statement to the Council on the situation in the North African country.

“The reported use of cluster bombs, sea and landmines, as well as deaths and injuries caused by aerial bombing, show a callous disregard for the physical and psychological well-being of civilians,” said Ms. Amos, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator.

She said there were reports of sexual violence, including rape, amid concerns that children could be recruited and used as combatants. Disappearances and abductions had also been reported.

Ms. Amos said that the shelling of the port in the besieged city of Misrata had prevented ships carrying much-needed humanitarian aid from docking there.

“All parties need to agree a temporary pause in the conflict in Misrata and other areas. This would provide respite from violence for the civilian population, and enable those who wish to leave to do so,” said Ms. Amos.

A pause in the fighting could also allow an independent assessment of the humanitarian situation and enable delivery of essential medical supplies and other relief items, as well as the evacuation of third-country nationals, the wounded, and others who require emergency medical assistance, she said.

Ms. Amos said that the implementation of the UN sanctions against Libya is causing serious delays in the arrival of

commercial goods, even as the conflict has led to a severe disruption of supply lines within the country, resulting in

shortages of fuel, and difficulties in obtaining commodities, including food, medicines, and other essential goods. Severe cash shortages throughout the country have also been reported.

“The impact is being felt nationwide and in all sectors. I am particularly concerned about the effect on the health sector. In Tripoli, the Libyan Ministry of Health has reported that only 45 per cent of medical staffs are working and thousands of foreign nurses and doctors left the country at the start of the crisis.

“Essential medicines, supplies and vaccines will not be replenished when they run out. Even if imported medicines do enter the country, they cannot be distributed to health facilities due to fuel shortages and disruption of supply lines,” said Ms. Amos.

Schools remain closed and school buildings have been damaged or are sheltering displaced people. School-age children have been traumatized by the violence, she added.

Ms. Amos told the Council that food stocks are being depleted in a country which imports between 75 and 90 per cent of all consumed cereals.

“The current situation will contribute to a continued need for humanitarian assistance in Libya in the months ahead. These structural vulnerabilities need to be addressed to ensure that the adverse affects on the civilian population are minimized,” she said.

She stressed that delivery of humanitarian assistance in Libya must remain distinct from the military activities of all parties to the conflict.

“Every possible effort is being made to deliver assistance and evacuate the injured and third-country nationals, using only civilian resources. Only as a last resort will the military assets that have been generously offered by some Member States be mobilized. We have not yet reached this point,” said Ms. Amos.

She reported that humanitarian agencies had received $144 million, or 46 per cent, of the funds requested to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Libya. The appeal is being revised because additional resources are needed, she said.

The conflict in Libya erupted earlier this year following peaceful protests that echoed the popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, which have led to the toppling of long-standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.