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UN envoy expected in Libya next week to discuss humanitarian, political issues

11 March 2011 – A special United Nations envoy to Libya is expected to arrive in Tripoli, the capital, early next week for humanitarian and political talks amid growing concern at the death toll from fighting between and Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s forces and opponents seeking his ouster.

The envoy, former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib, will leave New York over the weekend with a team of senior UN humanitarian, political and human rights officials, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters. Fighting has intensified in recent days with Mr. Qadhafi’s forces launching air, land and sea attacks against his opponents who have captured several cities in the east. More than 230,000 refugees have fled to Egypt, Tunisia and other neighbouring States.

“Our most immediate challenge is humanitarian. With each day, the death toll mounts and the situation of the Libyan people grows more desperate. We have all seen how the fighting has escalated. Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence. Increasingly, they are being targeted,” Mr. Ban said, with Mr. Khatib at his side.

“My message has been strong and consistent. The violence must stop. Humanitarian aid must get to those in need. Those responsible for violence against civilians will be held accountable. A peaceful resolution must be found.”

Mr. Khatib’s team will assess the situation on the ground and “undertake broad consultations with Libyan authorities on the immediate humanitarian, political and security situation,” Mr. Ban said, stressing that he has instructed the envoy to convey “in no uncertain terms” the concerns of the UN and the international community as expressed in Security Council resolutions.

In a unanimously adopted resolution the Council last month imposed sanctions against the Libyan authorities, placing an arms embargo against the country and freezing the assets of its leaders, while referring the ongoing violent repression of civilian demonstrators to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo subsequently announced that he is opening an investigation into Mr. Al-Qadhafi, some of his sons and members of his inner circle for crimes against humanity in repressing peaceful protesters in violence that has claimed hundreds or even thousands of lives, according to media reports. Mr. Ban has said Mr. Qadhafi lost his legitimacy when he declared war on his people.

Today he said Mr. Khatib will need to consult broadly with Libyan authorities and other parties, as well as with neighbouring states and regional organizations, on how best to resolve the crisis. He expected the visit to last several days, and Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa welcomed it in a telephone conversation on Wednesday.

Asked specifically about Mr. Khatib’s political role, Mr. Ban replied: “At this time we expect that we need to take urgent action to stop all the violence. This has very serious humanitarian implications. So he will focus on putting an end to the violence. But I expect that he will be engaged in a broader dimension of this crisis, including political issues.”

Mr. Khatib said he understood the complex nature of his task and the gravity of the situation on the ground. “I start my mission hoping that this effort that I undertake on behalf of the international community will succeed in stopping the killings and ending the suffering of the civilian population in addressing their humanitarian needs and in preserving the unity of the Libyan people and the territorial integrity of their homeland,” he added.

The UN refugee agency reported today that evacuation flights for migrant workers and other foreigners fleeing Libya were not keeping pace with the number of people crossing to Tunisia and Egypt. Arrivals at the Tunisian border average 2,500 people a day but evacuation flights take only 800 to 1,200 people daily.

“Currently, there are 17,000 people at the Choucha border transit camp comprising 25 nationalities, most of them Bangladeshi,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news briefing in Geneva, estimating the current shortage of long-haul flights at 70.

New arrivals continue to describe many checkpoints between Tripoli and the Ras Adjir border crossing with Tunisia, with some saying it is in excess of 100. UNHCR has also heard consistent reports that telephones, SIM cards and cash have been taken at these checkpoints. “We have also heard numerous accounts of threats and discrimination on the basis of skin colour throughout the country,” Ms. Fleming said.

A young man from Zimbabwe, interviewed in Tunisia, said he fled Tripoli after a gang broke into his house and attacked his mother and sister, dousing them with gasoline and burning them alive. “I can't sleep; I keep seeing them in front of my eyes,” he said. “I have nobody now.”

Most refugees are migrant males and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the numbers of children and women were still low, but rising. Today there were some 215 women and 120 children on the Tunisian border, mostly Somali, spokesperson Marixie Mercado told the Geneva briefing. On the Egyptian border there were 70 children and 87 children as of Wednesday.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today voiced serious concern at the impact of the crisis on food security both in Libya and surrounding countries due to dependency on cereal imports, possible disruptions to the flow of goods and services and population displacements.

“Depletion of food stocks and loss of rural manpower are all factors that in the longer term could seriously affect food security,” FAO Emergency Operations Services Chief Daniele Donati said.

On a more positive note, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said the ship carrying almost 1,200 tons of wheat flour which had been forced to turn around a week ago due to the aerial bombardments in Benghazi, the main city held by Qadhafi opponents in eastern Libya, had now arrived in the city with food for some 94,000 people for a month.

For its part, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has brought five health kits to local hospitals in Djerba, Tunisia, to treat 50,000 over three months. The material will be used inside Libya once the access is established, or at the border if needed.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council announced the three high-level experts to the independent international Commission of Inquiry it set up last month to investigate alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya.

They are Egyptian jurist Cherif Bassiouni, a UN war crimes expert, who has served the UN in a number of capacities, as chairman; Jordanian/Palestinian lawyer Asma Khader, a well known human rights advocate who serves on the executive committee of the International Commission of Jurists; and Canadian lawyer Philippe Kirsch, who served as an ICC judge from 2003 to 2009 and was its first president.

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