May 18, 2011 / 8:36 PM / 8 years ago

U.N. seeks deal to allow food, medicine into Libya

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations is negotiating with Libya’s government, rebels and NATO to stop fighting for 24 to 72 hours to allow food and medical supplies to reach civilians, especially in the west, its envoy said on Wednesday.

Panos Moumtzis, humanitarian coordinator for Libya, said he would also seek security guarantees for U.N. aid workers to reach the besieged city of Misrata and the Western Mountains in talks with authorities in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Friday.

“The humanitarian pause is driven by humanitarian principles and the need to be able to provide urgently needed life-saving assistance to the civilian population in distress,” Moumtzis told a Geneva news conference before leaving for Tunis.

The pause could last from one to three days and while not a formal ceasefire it would allow for the evacuation of migrants, wounded and others wishing to leave war-affected areas, he said.

“I would like to do it as soon as it is possible for all the parties to agree,” Moumtzis said, declining to provide any date.

The United Nations withdrew its international staff from Tripoli on May 1 after its offices were ransacked on the day Libya said Muammar Gaddafi’s youngest son and three grandchildren were killed in a NATO airstrike.

Talks with the foreign ministry and prime minister’s office since then have been “rather constructive and positive,” said Moumtzis, who also met rebel leaders in the eastern town of Benghazi last week.

“We are not entering into the political debate, our objective is not political, it is completely driven by humanitarian principles and values,” he said.

“This is why we call it a humanitarian pause, meaning that everybody just stops the fighting and allows us to go in and respects our flag, our civilian nature and our motive.”


The conflict, compounded by sanctions, has disrupted supply lines, leading to shortages of fuel and difficulty in obtaining food, medicines and other essentials, the U.N. envoy said.

The situation is believed to be worst in the country’s west, home to 80 percent of Libya’s population of about 6 million, including some 1.2 million people in the capital Tripoli.

“My concern for the west is that the west is really like a time bomb. The longer the conflict lasts, the more grave the humanitarian needs will be, particularly in the western part,” Moumtzis said.

The United Nations also issued an appeal on Wednesday for emergency funding of $407 million to provide aid to 1.6 million people in Libya from June through August. It follows an initial appeal of $310 million which is less than 50 percent funded.

“Civilians are still coming under fire in these areas of conflict and this has to stop,” Moumtzis told a donors’ meeting.

“The reported use of cluster bombs, sea and land-mines, as well as deaths and injuries caused by aerial bombing, show a callous disregard for the physical and psychological well-being of civilians,” he said in a speech made available later.

Rapes, disappearances and abductions have been reported, according to the U.N. appeal issued on behalf of 30 aid groups.

As part of the appeal, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is seeking $150 million to maintain its support of tens of thousands of migrants who have fled Libya or are stranded in desperate conditions.

More than 800,000 people fleeing Libya have crossed into Tunisia, Egypt, Niger, Chad and Algeria, or arrived by sea in Italy and Malta since the crisis began three months ago.

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