Civilians flee Kadhafi hometown as medics warn of crisis

26th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Anti-Kadhafi fighters tightened their siege of the ousted leader's hometown of Sirte on Monday as civilians poured out of the Mediterranean coastal city where doctors spoke of a growing crisis.

Fighters loyal to Libya's new government also pounded Kadhafi's forces in the desert city of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, as they sought to take the last two significant remaining bastions of his loyalists.

National Transitional Council (NTC) troops advancing from the east said they had pushed 10 kilometres (six miles) inside Sirte city limits but were still 15 kilometres from the centre of the sprawling city.

Hundreds of fearful residents fled the looming offensive to retake Sirte, arriving at NTC checkpoints on the front lines both east and west.

"The situation in the city is very critical," said Muftah Mohammed, leaving in a convoy of seven vehicles.

"There is no food, no water, no petrol and no electricity. This has been going on for nearly two months now as Kadhafi forces would not allow us to leave.

"Children are in a particularly bad condition."

The collapse of the mains supply has left residents without access to clean drinking water, triggering an epidemic of water-borne diseases.

An AFP correspondent saw dozens of children receiving treatment at a clinic in the town of Harawa, 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Sirte.

"We have medicines but no nurses to treat the constant flow of patients, mainly children, suffering from vomiting and gastrointestinal diseases," said Dr Valentina Rybakova, a Ukrainian working in Libya for eight years.

"Since morning I saw nearly 120 patients and 70 percent of them were children. They are coming from some outskirts of Sirte and nearby villages," she said.

"This is a big humanitarian crisis. We are trying to get help from everybody but the main problem is that these people have no access to clean drinking water."

In Geneva, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya Panos Moumtzis said the United Nations is expected to end its emergency humanitarian operations in Libya at the end of November.

"We hope the country will be in a new phase" by then, Moumtzis said, adding that at that point Libya would need "technical" assistance.

NATO said on Monday its aircraft had hit a command and control node, three ammunition or vehicle storage facilities, a radar facility, a multiple rocket launcher, a military support vehicle and an artillery piece in Sirte.

However, Britain said it has agreed with the alliance to withdraw the five Apache helicopters it has in service over Libya, in a major sign the NATO air mission is winding down.

There have been repeated reports that one of Kadhafi's sons -- Mutassim -- is holed up in Sirte's southern outskirts.

NTC forces believe Kadhafi's most prominent son, Seif al-Islam, is in the other major enclave still in the hands of loyalist forces, the desert city of Bani Walid.

Troops massed at Bani Walid's northern gates pounded Kadhafi positions with artillery, tanks and anti-aircraft guns on Monday.

"We are facing heavy resistance, that's why we are using the heavy artillery and not sending in any infantry for now," Commander Mohamed al-Seddiq told AFP.

The NTC is keen to put Kadhafi and top members of his former regime on trial for what they say were widespread human rights abuses committed during his 42-year rule.

NTC number two Mahmud Jibril, the interim premier, told the UN Security Council on Monday Kadhafi is a growing international terrorist threat.

"The simple fact that he is free and has at his disposal such wealth means that he is still able to destabilise the situation not only within my country but also in the Sahel and Sahara region," Jibril told the council.

He said that even outside Africa, Kadhafi "could return to his terrorist practices by providing arms" to militant groups.

The gruesome find in a mass grave of the remains of prisoners executed at Tripoli's notorious Abu Salim jail was yet further proof of "criminal acts" by Kadhafi's regime, said Khalid Sharif, spokesman for the NTC's military council.

Sharif announced the find on Sunday, adding that the grave was believed to hold the remains of more than 1,700 people.

The first demonstrations in Libya which finally ousted Kadhafi last month erupted in Benghazi in February, when families of Abu Salim victims called for protests against the arrest of their lawyer.

In the remote oasis town of Ghadames on Libya's western border with Algeria, funerals were held for eight NTC soldiers killed in a dawn raid by around 100 pro-Kadhafi fighters on Sunday.

An Algerian official said eight wounded NTC men had been evacuated to hospitals across the border. Municipal council number two Sirajeddin Muwaffaq said another 31 wounded soldiers were receiving treatment inside Libya.

"The situation is calm now after we managed to defeat the attackers, but there are unconfirmed reports that they are reorganising to attack the town again," Muwaffaq said.

Scottish prosecutors, meanwhile, called on the NTC for help in their continuing investigation into the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie in which 270 people died.

The only person convicted of the bombing, Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, was released on compassionate grounds in 2009.

But the Crown Office, Scotland's public prosecution service, said it had asked the NTC to make available "any documentary evidence and witnesses, which could assist in the ongoing enquiries."

Italian oil giant ENI, Libya's top foreign producer before the uprising brought output to a near standstill, announced that it had resumed production, pumping 31,900 barrels per day from 15 wells in the Abu Attifel field.

On Friday, French oil giant Total said it had restarted production from an offshore oil platform.


© 2011 AFP

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