U.N. hopes for Libya aid access "as soon as possible"

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

TUNIS (Reuters) – The United Nations is talking to all parties in the Libyan conflict to provide aid to those in need “as soon as possible,” an envoy said Sunday.

“Nothing is on the table … the situation is very fluid and unpredictable,” Rashid Khalikov, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, told a news conference in Tunis.

“Timeframe, I can give you only one timeframe: as quickly as possible because we have to do something to reduce the suffering of the population … Dialogue is continuing with the parties to the conflict and will continue as long as will be required.”

The U.N. pulled its international staff out of Libya in late February due to growing insecurity, but its food and refugee agencies have provided limited assistance in the east, Khalikov who has held talks in Tripoli, said last month.

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

Libyans are suffering dire shortages in areas caught up in the conflict, above all in cities under siege from Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, residents and aid workers say.

A doctor in the city of Misrata, where clashes persist, told Reuters Saturday 160 people, most of them civilians, had been killed in the fighting there in the past seven days.

“A serious concern is for the civilians who find themselves in the middle of military hostilities and who have difficulty in accessing some basic services,” Khalikov said.

“There is no access to this population in various parts of the country and we are working with various parties of the conflict, insisting on the need to show strict adherence to the principles of international law,” he said, adding it was difficult to confirm casualty numbers without being there.

Libyan officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross have had positive talks on expanding the ICRC’s humanitarian activities there, it said.

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 neighboring countries like Tunisia and Egypt.

Khalikov Saturday visited the Ras Jdir transit point on the Tunisian-Libyan border. The number of migrants crossing is now steady but help is still needed in evacuating workers mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, he said.

“The situation is manageable at this point but it is very fragile. As long as the number of those crossing the border is being balanced by the number of those being evacuated, the situation will continue to be manageable,” he said.

“The more people stay in the positions they are in today — not being able to be evacuated — the more angry they become, the more impact they will have on local hosting communities.”

He also said sub-Saharan Africans said one of their main fears was being accused of being mercenaries in Libya.

U.N. hopes for Libya aid access "as soon as possible"