UN says EU soldiers could endanger aid workers

One of the United Nations's top humanitarian officials has said it will not be seeking the support of EU troops in the provision of assistance in Libya, warning that aid workers will become associated with military actors.

Valerie Amos, emergency relief co-ordinator with the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) told a press conference in New York on Wednesday (20 April) that an EU mission was needed "not at the moment. We are able to get in using civilian means."

The words come as it emerged that the EU is readying a 1,000-strong military mission to support humanitarian assistance in the country.

Amos said she is worried that aid officials and soldiers would be viewed in the minds of some as being linked.

"Our responsibility, all the time, is to ensure that our aid is offered on an impartial basis," she said. Aid workers' lives would be endangered were they to lose their neutral reputation, she continued: "We have to be extremely careful about that and make sure the lines are not blurred."

She said that the UN retains the possibility of calling on the EU and Nato to deliver support from military assets "but we are not at that point yet … It is difficult but we are able to do it."

"The government has said absolutely clearly that it will stop any attempt to use humanitarian assistance or aid to support military efforts. So we have to be extremely careful about that and try as much as possible to ensure that those lines do not get blurred."

The comments make public concerns contained in a letter sent by Amos to EU and Nato member states on 10 April and seen by EUobserver.

"The use of foreign military assets in the vicinity of Libya - whether or not provided by parties to hostilities - could be perceived as being associated with the ongoing military operations," she wrote.

"It is imperative that we do not compromise our ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to all Libyans in need, regardless of under whose control they are, as it is important to preserve the neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian action."

"All civilian alternatives must be fully explored and exhausted before foreign military assets are used to support humanitarian operations."

Valerie noted that Ocha until this point has been successful in delivering food, medical equipment and other items into Misrata on civilian vessels without military escorts "and we would like to continue to explore these options before invoking any foreign military support."

She added that the office is prepared to call for military assets to fill a specific capacity gap if necessary, but "only after exhausting all other civilian options."

At the start of April, EU diplomats signed on to a document outlining the deployment of some 1,000 troops to secure land and sea corridors for the delivery of aid.

The mission - Eufor Libya - would not engage in open combat, but could protect ports, assist in the unloading of ships and provide naval escorts.

The EU has however been waiting for the go-ahead from the UN before moving forward with its plans.

[Source: By Leigh Phillips, Euobserver, Brussels, 21Apr11]

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