UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. humanitarian aid official and the new U.N. special envoy to Libya, Abdelilah Al-Khatib, will go to Tripoli in the coming days to assess the impact of the fighting, a U.N. official said on Thursday.
U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy emergency relief coordinator Catherine Bragg told a briefing for the 192 U.N. member states that some 250,000 people had fled Libya for neighboring countries as forces loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi step up their attacks against rebel fighters.
Most of the refugees — over 137,000 — had gone to Tunisia and the majority of them are foreigners, she said.
“Humanitarian agencies are working tirelessly to avoid bottlenecks at the borders, and to ensure that those waiting in transit camps do so in a dignified manner,” she said, according to a written copy of her speech.
Some U.N. diplomats say the conflict in Libya has erupted into a full-scale civil war. Recent successes appear to have emboldened Gaddafi, whose most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, has said loyalists were preparing a full-scale offensive aimed at crushing the rebels.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke on the telephone over the weekend with Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, who promised to allow a U.N. team to come to Tripoli to assess the humanitarian situation in the North African state.
Bragg said Khatib would travel to Tripoli soon, possibly this weekend. He will be accompanied by a newly appointed special humanitarian coordinator for Libya, Rashid Khalikov, a U.N. spokeswoman said.
“We are also preparing humanitarian assessment teams to be deployed as soon as possible,” Bragg said.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration said on Thursday the United States would send civilian disaster relief teams to rebel-held eastern Libya to help with humanitarian efforts but stressed they would not be accompanied by military or security personnel.
Bragg said the United Nations was having difficulty getting information about the humanitarian impact of the heavy fighting in recent days.
“Medical needs are a major concern, particularly as we are receiving reports of hospital closures at a time when people most need medical care,” she said.
“To understand the humanitarian impact of the upheaval ... we are urgently working to establish dialogue with all parties in order to access all areas inside Libya and assess the humanitarian situation first hand,” she added.
Bragg said the world body was especially worried about conditions for foreigners in Libya, especially those from sub-Saharan Africa, who fear they may be persecuted.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Peter Cooney