UN 'extremely concerned' about Libya civilians

AP News
Posted: Mar 23, 2011 12:44 PM

The U.N. aid coordinator for Libya said Wednesday he is "extremely concerned" about the plight of civilians there, adding that the global body hasn't received any first-hand information about the humanitarian situation inside the country for a week.

Rashid Khalikov, who visited Libya on March 12-16, said he saw large numbers of damaged buildings in some areas, including the western town of Zawiya.

"I'm extremely concerned about the impact on civilians from the ongoing conflict," he told reporters in Geneva. "There are reports that fighting is ongoing and civilians are suffering a lot."

The United Nations pulled all of its international staff out of Libya at the end of February and has been reluctant to ask its local staff to travel around the country. Since then, the U.N. Security Council has authorized a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians.

"We are not sure that it is safe for them to do anything for the U.N.," Khalikov said of the local staff.

During his five-day visit, the U.N. official was refused access to certain parts of the country, including the coastal city of Misrata, from where there have been reports of civilians being used as human shields. If confirmed, "of course it's unacceptable," said Khalikov. His office cited reports that at least 45 people including four children were killed in the city since Monday in fighting between government and rebel forces.

The global body has already asked donors for $160 million to help cover the needs of the estimated 336,000 people who have fled Libya since fighting broke out between rebels and troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Khalikov said there didn't appear to be a humanitarian crisis inside the country yet, but Libya would have to give international aid organizations greater access to confirm that.

"We need to have an international presence in the country in order to assess the situation and to assess the needs," he said.

If aid is required, "humanitarian corridors" could be established, Khalikov suggested. Creating such corridors would require negotiations with Gadhafi's forces, rebel forces and the alliance of nations imposing a no-fly zone to make sure aid can be delivered safely without being caught up in the midst of fighting.