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Africa
Gaddafi forces shell mountain towns
Government forces seek to capture high ground as UN official calls for pause in fighting to facilitate humanitarian aid.
Last Modified: 18 May 2011 15:43
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Rebels said Gaddafi forces were shelling communities in the western mountains [AFP]

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have shelled villages and towns in a western mountain range amid calls by the UN for global assistance for the millions displaced by fighting between Gaddafi's forces and rebels trying to oust him.

Panos Moumtzis, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Libya, said some 1.6m people in the North African country needed aid because fighting had disrupted basic services and depleted food and medical stocks.

Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, he said an additional 500,000 who have crossed borders to Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the region also needed humanitarian assistance.

He called for a break in the fighting, so that supplies could reach civilians. He also said he was asking international donors for $408m to fund aid for Libya through September.

"The humanitarian pause is driven by humanitarian principles and the need to be able to provide urgently needed life-saving assistance to the civilian population in distress."

The pause could last from one to three days and while not a formal ceasefire it would allow for the evacuation of migrants, wounded and others wishing to leave war-affected areas, he said.

"I would like to do it as soon as it is possible for all the parties to agree," Moumtzis said, declining to provide any date.

'Living under siege'

Moumtzis said he would also seek security guarantees for UN aid workers to reach the besieged city of Misurata and the Western Mountains in talks with authorities in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Friday.

Libyan rebels said on Wednesday that Gaddafi's forces were shelling communities in the Western Mountains.

BelJassem, a citizen-turned-fighter from a village near Yafrin, said Gaddafi forces were using Grad missiles and
rocket launchers in their nearly month-long siege, leaving residents trapped and cut off from food and medical supplies.

"We dig trenches and hide in there at night,'' says BelJassem, who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals.

Yafrin, which is 120km southwest of Tripoli, is one of the biggest cities in the Nafusa mountain range, home to the ethnic Berber minority.

Fathi Abu-Zakhar is among the city's residents who fled the fighting. He said that two of his sons stayed behind.

 

"They are living under siege,'' he said in a telephone interview. "No food and no medicine can get in. Even the injured have no way to get treatment since the only hospital has been shut down.''

Medghamas Abu-Zakhar, a rebel based in Yafrin, said Gaddafi forces were shelling villages towards the top of the Nafusa range in an attempt to capture the high ground.

ICC warning

Also Wednesday, prosecutors of the International Criminal Court warned Libyan officials that they will be prosecuted if they attempt to cover up crimes by forces loyal to Gaddafi.

Prosecutors issued the warning in a letter to Abdelati al-Obeidi, the Libyan foreign minister.

The letter also formally informed him of prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's request for arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi. The judges will now have to decide whether to issue arrest warrants.

The development came a day after about 20 shells fell in the border area between Libya and Tunisia on Tuesday in fresh clashes between rebels and government troops.

Rocket attacks by government troops forced the rebels to pull back briefly from the Dehiba-Wazin border crossing, but they ended the day in control of the area despite a sustained bombardment that killed three rebels and wounded several.

Source:
Agencies
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