UN chief Ban calls for ceasefire in Libya
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called today for an "immediate, verifiable ceasefire" in Libya where rebels are fighting to end Muammar Gaddafi's 41 years in power.world Updated: May 11, 2011 16:14 IST
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Wednesday for an "immediate, verifiable ceasefire" in Libya where rebels are fighting to end Muammar Gaddafi's 41 years in power.
Ban was speaking in Geneva after talking with Libya's Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi. There was no immediate direct response from the rebels or government.
Gaddafi's government has made several ceasefire declarations but has continued its attacks on the besieged western city of Misrata and other rebel-held areas.
"He (Mahmoudi) even suggested the Libyan government was willing to have an immediate ceasefire with a monitoring team to be established by the United Nations and the African Union," Ban told a news conference.
"But first and foremost there should be an end to the fighting in Misrata and elsewhere. Then we will be able to provide humanitarian assistance and in parallel we can continue our political dialogue," Ban added.
Rebels said on Tuesday they made gains by driving back Gaddafi's troops on the eastern and western edges of Misrata and encircling them at the airport.
The rebels also said they had taken the town of Zareek, about 25 km (15 miles) west of Misrata, but no independent verification of their statements was available.
Misrata, besieged by Gaddafi's forces for eight weeks, is the only major city the rebels hold in the west of the country.
NATO launched missile strikes on Tuesday in the Tripoli area on targets that appeared to include Gaddafi's compound, witnesses said. NATO said later it carried out a strike against a government command and control post in the capital.
After three months of revolt linked to this year's uprisings in other Arab countries, the war has reached a stalemate. Rebels hold Benghazi and other towns in the oil-producing east while the government controls the capital and almost all of the west.
Thousands have been killed in the fighting in the vast country, which has a population of more than six million.
The government says the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda militants and that the majority of Libyans support Gaddafi, who has been in power since 1969.
He has not appeared in public since April 30, when a NATO air strike on a house in the capital killed his youngest son and three of his grandchildren.
Rebels had surrounded Gaddafi's forces at Misrata airport and an air force academy near the southern neighbourhood of al Ghiran where the two sides fought fierce battles on Monday, a witness and a rebel spokesman said.
"The plan is to drive out Gaddafi's forces from the airport and the air force academy where they are now trapped," rebel spokesman Abdelsalam said by phone from Misrata on Tuesday. "We continue to have success but our weakness is that we can't hold on to areas we take control of."
The proximity of Gaddafi's forces to civilian areas made it hard for NATO to carry out its mandate of protecting civilians, Brigadier-General Claudio Gabellini, chief operations officer of NATO's Libya mission, told reporters in Brussels.
NATO had still managed to destroy more than 30 military targets in Misrata since April 29. "Pro-Gaddafi forces have continued to shell the citizens of Misrata with long-range artillery, mortars and rockets, indiscriminately firing high explosive rounds into the city," said Gabellini.
The Libyan government says NATO's intervention is an act of colonial aggression by Western powers bent on stealing the country's oil.
The war has caused misery for tens of thousands forced to flee overland or by boat. Aid agencies say witnesses reported a vessel carrying between 500 and 600 people foundered late last week near Tripoli and that many bodies were seen in the water.
Before that, about 800 people had gone missing since March 25 after trying to escape from Libya, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Most were from sub-Saharan Africa.