TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya said Monday that tens of thousands of telecoms workers would act as human shields to deter NATO strikes on communications infrastructure, which it said had inflicted serious financial damage.
Speaking to reporters at a government-organised news conference in the capital, a man who identified himself as one of more than 20,000 workers in the sector read a statement vowing to guard telecoms installations with their lives.
“We, the telecoms workers, are present with our families and children around the clock and in shifts to protect this utility,” it read.
“We will be human shields to confront any aggression or bombing aimed at continuing destruction of the communications infrastructure.”
Libya says the strikes have caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to telecoms installations.
Muammar Gaddafi’s government says NATO’s two-month campaign has gone beyond a U.N. mandate for civilian protection to target civilians and destroy infrastructure to pave the way for regime change and seizure of the country’s oil wealth. State media have reported strikes on communications equipment and facilities throughout the NATO campaign, including facilities used by the country’s two mobile phone service providers.
NATO says its attacks target command and control facilities, and aim to limit Gaddafi’s military capabilities.
In a separate statement, Mohammad Bin Ayad, who identified himself as the chairman of one mobile provider, Libyana, said the strikes had cut about half of that network’s service, and reduced the capacity of the other network slightly more.
Total damage to communications equipment amounted to 1.5 billion Libyan dinars, he said. The figure implies a sum of about $1.25 billion at official exchange rates of 1.2 to the dollar. The currency now trades at approximately 1.8 in the capital’s black market.
Rebels who have seized most of the east of the country and seek Gaddafi’s ousting have established a mobile network out of central government control after Libyana cut service to rebel territory in March.
Reporting by Joseph Logan