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UN cannot get supplies into Sirte

26 September 2011, 23:39

Geneva - The United Nations has food and medical supplies on the outskirts of Muammar Gaddafi's bastion, Sirte, and cannot get in to distribute them, the UN's top humanitarian official in Libya said on Monday.

Panos Moumtzis, who left Tripoli at the weekend after completing his assignment as UN aid co-ordinator, said there was no direct information coming out of Sirte because no UN or non-governmental aid groups had been able to get into the town.

"We are mobilising food and medical supplies on the outskirts. That is all we can do for the moment," Moumtzis told a Geneva media conference. "For security reasons, we cannot cross over the lines."

"We gather that there is a shortage of water and that electricity is cut off," he said. "The information we have comes from people who have managed to leave, about 1 700 so far."

He made no direct comment when asked if there was concern over continuing Nato strikes against populated areas still held by forces loyal to the deposed leader.

"We hope there will be a peaceful solution as soon as possible. The longer it continues, the more difficult it will be for civilians," he said, answering questions on the situation in and around Gaddafi's home town of Sirte.

Earlier on Monday, fighters backing the interim National Transitional Council (NTC) controlling most of the country prepared to renew an advance into the coastal city after Nato aircraft bombed targets there.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday it was "very concerned" about people in Sirte.

Civilians fleeing

Nato, which insists it is carrying out a UN mandate to protect civilians from attacks by troops and militias still loyal to Gaddafi, has also been reported bombing around the desert town of Bani Walid, under seige by NTC fighters.

Reports from refugees and NTC fighters around the town say pro-Gaddafi units are trying to prevent people getting out.

Some 24 000 people, about a quarter of the population, had fled Bani Walid, he said. Most had gone further south, but some had returned to Tripoli, which is 170km away.

Moumtzis said that since the capture of Tripoli last month there had been "tremendous progress" in ensuring humanitarian supplies got through to the capital and elsewhere in Libya.

"The NTC has shown the capacity to respond very quickly to humanitarian needs," he said. The UN was therefore phasing out its response to what were earlier the most urgent needs for assistance and switching to longer term planning.

"There is no shortage of food. The warehouses are full," he said. "The problem is getting supplies to areas of conflict."

- Reuters


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