Food running out in Gaddafi-held Libya: U.N.

TRIPOLI Tue May 31, 2011 8:28am EDT

A boy stands by a house destroyed in battles between rebels fighters and forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi on Tripoli street in central Misrata May 29,2011. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

A boy stands by a house destroyed in battles between rebels fighters and forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi on Tripoli street in central Misrata May 29,2011.

Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Dwindling supplies of food and medicine are a "time bomb" in parts of Libya controlled by Muammar Gaddafi, with some food stocks likely to last only weeks, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Libya said on Tuesday.

Panos Moumtzis, who coordinates U.N. relief efforts for the conflict, said he had been given information by the Libyan government that showed it was using up stocks food and medicine, which could not be replenished because of sanctions.

"The food, and the medical supplies, is a little bit like a time bomb. At the moment it's under control and it's okay. But if this goes on for quite some time, this will become a major issue," he told Reuters in Tripoli.

In peacetime, Libya exported about 1.8 million barrels of oil per day, earning cash which the government used to buy food that it distributed to the population at heavily subsidized prices. That trade has ceased as a result of sanctions.

"They have given us some information on their stocks available," Moumtzis said. "For some food commodities it's a matter of weeks, others perhaps a matter of months. What is clear is that this cannot continue for a very long time."

"At the moment it's under control, I don't think there's any famine, malnutrition. But the longer the conflict lasts, the more the food stocks supplies are going to be depleted, and it's a matter of weeks before the country reaches a critical situation," he added.

There is already evidence of mounting public anger in Gaddafi-held areas over a fuel supply shortage, with petrol queues stretching for miles and motorists having to line up for days, he added.

"There is a growing anger within the population for the fact that normal life has been disrupted or slowed down because of a lack of fuel in particular," he said.

NATO countries have been bombing Libya for more than two months and say they will not stop until the Libyan leader steps down. They have made clear they hope discontent from the impact of sanctions will finally topple him.

Moumtzis said the supply situation was better in the eastern parts of the country under rebel control, where there were no shortages of fuel.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)

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