Red Cross holds talks on wider Libya aid role

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Libyan officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross have had positive talks on expanding the ICRC’s humanitarian activities in the country, including visiting rebels captured in the conflict, it said.

ICRC officials have been in Tripoli at the government’s invitation since Wednesday, the independent aid agency said in a statement issued on Friday.

“The first discussions were substantial and encouraging,” said Jean-Michel Monod, heading the ICRC team in Tripoli.

The ICRC, which now deploys about 50 aid workers in the eastern rebel-held towns of Benghazi and Tobruk, did not yet have a presence in the capital.

It has called on all sides, including Western-led forces carrying out air strikes, to spare civilians and allow safe passage for the sick and wounded to hospital, as required under international law.

Libyan rebels said on Friday Muammar Gaddafi must withdraw troops from western cities and grant citizens freedoms in any ceasefire deal, and their demand that the Libyan leader quit was unchanged.

Monod met Prime Minister al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi, Health and Environment Secretary Mohamed Mahmoud al-Hijazi and Bashir Saleh, Gaddafi’s long-serving chief of staff, the ICRC said.

More high-level talks were to follow in coming days.

“The organization stands ready to assess the situation from a humanitarian viewpoint in some of the worst-affected areas in order to meet the most pressing needs of vulnerable people.

“Access to people arrested in the initial phase of the unrest and to those captured in connection with the ensuing armed conflict has also been discussed,” it said.

ICRC officials have visited more than 80 Libyan soldiers and others held by the opposition in Benghazi, according to the agency which monitors conditions of detention.

The ICRC has provided about 15,000 people with food and household items in Ajdabiyah where it has also supplied the main hospital with surgical instruments and kits to treat wounded.

ICRC and U.N. aid officials have also provided assistance to many of the more than 400,000 people fleeing Libya who have crossed into Tunisia and Egypt.

U.N. aid agencies still await security clearances from the world body in New York before deploying in Libya.

Rashid Khalikov, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, who held talks in Tripoli last month, was due to arrive in Tunisia from Cairo on Friday, a spokeswoman said in Geneva.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Red Cross holds talks on wider Libya aid role