UN says 20 children killed in Misrata, wants truce

The United Nations appealed on Tuesday for a ceasefire in the Libyan city of Misrata, saying at least 20 children had been killed in attacks by besieging government forces on rebel-held parts of the city.

Libya's third city, where hundreds are believed to have been killed by shelling and sniper fire from Muammar Gaddafi's forces, is the main focus of efforts to protect civilians caught up in the Libyan leader's bid to put down an armed rebellion.

"Fifty days into the fighting in Misrata, the full picture of the toll on children is emerging -- far worse than we had feared and certain to get worse unless there is a ceasefire," said Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for the U.N. children's fund UNICEF.

"We have at least 20 verified child deaths and many more injuries due to shrapnel from mortars and tanks and bullet wounds," she told a news briefing in Geneva.

Aid groups say food, medicines and other basic items are in short supply in the city, and tens of thousands of casualties and foreign workers are waiting at the port to be evacuated.

Nine weeks after the rebellion broke out, inspired by uprisings against autocratic rulers elsewhere in the Arab world, the city's plight has highlighted the limitations of a NATO-led air campaign designed to keep Gaddafi's forces out of the air and prevent attacks on civilians.

Many NATO members refuse to go beyond enforcing a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone to attack Gaddafi's forces, despite the urging of the United States, France and Britain, who all want to see Gaddafi removed from power.

And some of those who allowed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya to pass say that it is being misused to provide military cover for the rebels -- even though fighting now appears to have stalemated on a frontline just west of Ajdabiyah in eastern Libya.

Air Strikes

NATO said multiple air strikes on Monday night had targeted Gaddafi's communications infrastructure and the headquarters of his 32nd brigade, 10 km (six miles) south of Tripoli.

Libyan television said Tripoli and the towns of Sirte and al-Aziziyah had been bombed.

At Ajdabiyah's western gate, rebels peered into the desert through binoculars on Tuesday morning at what they said were Gaddafi's forces 30 km (20 miles) away.

Some said that NATO had advised them not to attack so they would not be hit accidentally by air strikes.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Western air support was allowing the Libyan opposition to refuse to sit down to negotiate.

"The U.N. Security Council never aimed to topple the Libyan regime," he said in Belgrade.

"All those who are currently using the U.N. resolution for that aim are violating the U.N. mandate. It is crucial to establish a ceasefire."

Even the advocates of more robust attacks on Gaddafi's forces have insisted they will not deploy ground troops.

But the European Union outlined a tentative plan on Monday to do just that to protect aid deliveries to Misrata and elsewhere if requested by the United Nations.

Any EU mission could involve hundreds of military personnel securing transport of supplies directly to Libya, in particular Misrata, and helping to supply food and shelter to refugee camps on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders.

The U.N. World Food Program said it had secured Libyan consent to bring food to western towns affected by the fighting.

Eight trucks entered from Tunisia carrying 240 tones of food -- enough to feed nearly 50,000 people for 30 days -- to towns in the west including Zawiyah, Zintan and Nalut that are mostly under Gaddafi's control after uprisings there were crushed by force.


For now, Misrata's lifeline is its port, where humanitarian supply ships have been docking and ferries have been evacuating some of the wounded as well as trapped foreign workers, although many thousands still await a passage to safety.

Chartered ships evacuated almost 1,600 foreign workers and wounded Libyans from the city on Monday.

"There is no electricity. The town is functioning on generators ... the reserves of fuel are being used up," Amnesty International researcher Donatella Rovera told Reuters by telephone from the city. The supply of water has now been cut off for weeks, so again what is being used is reserves."

A rebel spokesman said at least 31 people had been killed there on Sunday and Monday by government shelling and snipers, and Rovera said the shelling continued on Tuesday.

"The shells can land anywhere," said Muhammad Gadib, a porcelain trader with a cast on his arm about to disembark from a relief ship ferrying him and hundreds of others to rebel-held Benghazi. "We were at a mosque asking for God's help, to be saved. As soon as we stepped outside, the shrapnel hit us."

Doctors from the Arab Medical Union working in Misrata told the World Health Organization that the 120-bed hospital there was "overwhelmed."

The doctors said around 30 patients with multiple injuries and requiring surgery were being admitted every day.

Libyan officials say they are fighting armed militias with ties to al Qaeda bent on destroying the country, and deny that government troops are shelling Misrata.

The rebels who control the eastern territory around Benghazi had hoped to sell oil produced there to finance the rebellion, but the U.N. sanctions designed to cut off Gaddafi's revenues are also hurting the rebels.

[Source: By Michael Georgy, Reuters, Benghazi, Lby, 19Apr11]

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