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Rediff.com  » News » UN pulls out staff as Libyan forces pound Misurata

UN pulls out staff as Libyan forces pound Misurata

May 02, 2011 20:10 IST

Pro-Gaddafi forces pounded the port and launched a new armoured incursion into the western besieged city of Misurata on Monday, as the United Nations pulled out its staff from the Libyan capital Tripoli following violence targetting its offices.

Western embassies, including those of the United Kingdom, Italy and the United St commercial and consular affairs department were targets of attack by angry crowds amid reports that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his wife escaped a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation missile strike at the residence in Tripoli of his youngest son, who was killed along with three grandchildren yesterday.

The UN said it had evacuated its international staff from Tripoli on account of the unrest and after some of its facilities were targeted by agitated crowds. Stephanie Bunker, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that 12 staffers had left Libya and were now in neighbouring Tunisia.

Meanwhile, fierce fighting raged in Misurata for the control of city's airport as its port came under heavy shelling, disrupting operations to bring supplies in by sea. At least 12 people were killed, a medic was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera channel.

BBC quoted Libyan state TV as saying that the port was shelled to stop NATO delivering weapons to insurgents but rebels said an aid ship had been trying to unload. Reports said the Libyan regime has launched a new armoured incursion into Misurata, 215 km east of Tripoli, ahead of the funeral of 29-year-old Saif al-Arab, one of the Libyan dictator's seven sons killed in the NATO air strikes yesterday.

According to Al Jazeera, the Libyan state television broadcast footing apparently shot in a mortuary showed what appeared to be two bodies, covered by green Libyan flags, lying on metal gurneys.

It quoted Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, the top Catholic clergyman in Tripoli, as saying that he was shown the bodies in the hospital. The bishop said while he was told that one was that of Saif al-Arab, it was so badly disfigured that he could not make a positive identification.

Intense fighting also raged on the western border near Tunisia, where a number of Gaddafi's troops tried to break through the border crossing into Tunisia. "Rebel forces seem to know the territory very well here, and as long as they occupy the higher ground,  they appear to have the upper hand," Al Jazeera reported.

The Pan-Arab channel said the rebels reported fighting near the opposition-held city of Zintan, where they said NATO air strikes hit pro-Gaddafi troops. Following attacks on its facilities in the Libyan capital, the UK has expelled Libyan ambassador to Britain, Omar Jelban.

The BBC said the British embassy was completely burnt out with fires still smouldering and paperwork and other debris scattered outside. British Foreign Secretary William Hague declared Jelban "persona non grata" who was given 24 hours to quit the United Kingdom.

"The Vienna Convention requires the Gaddafi regime to protect diplomatic missions in Tripoli," Hague said yesterday. "By failing to do so that regime has once again breached its international responsibilities and obligations. I take the failure to protect such premises   very seriously indeed," he said.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim on Sunday claimed "the leader himself is in good health, he wasn't harmed", but it resulted in "the martyrdom of brother Saif al-Arab Muammar Gaddafi, and three of the leader's grandchildren."

BBC quoted the Libyan state television as saying that funerals for Gaddaf's son and the other victims would be held today after noon prayers. Acknowledging that it had carried out the air strike, NATO, however, did not deny or confirm the reported deaths.

A NATO spokesman said the strike had hit a "known command and control building in the Bab al-Azizya neighbourhood".  The international coalition led by the US began air strikes in Libya on March 19 following the United Nations Security Council mandate to protect civilians. The NATO took command of military campaign on March 31.

A key meeting of the Libya Contact Group is planned in Rome on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing implementation of UNSC resolutions 1970 and 1973. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to be present at the crucial meeting.

The military campaign by the western nations has brought out the growing division among the international community, with Russia and China critical of the targeting of the Libyan regime by NATO air strikes.

Moscow and Beijing have described the air strikes as being outside the mandate of UNSC resolution that authorised the 'no fly' zone in Libya to protect the civilians. The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused NATO of a "disproportionate use of force". It called for "an immediate cease-fire and the beginning of a political settlement process without preconditions."

"The claims of the coalition members that strikes over Libya do not have the physical destruction of Muammar Gaddafi and members of his family as their goal cause serious doubts," BBC quoted a statement from the foreign ministry in Moscow.

China on Monday underlined the need for a ceasefire in Libya as it called upon NATO to abide by UNSC mandate to protect civilians.

"The Chinese side has all along opposed any  actions that overstep UNSC authorisation, we hope that all sides can immediately cease fire and politically resolve the current crisis in Libya through  dialogue," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement in Beijing.

Meanwhile, international human right groups have warned of a humanitarian disaster in Misurata, amid fears that over 1000 people have been killed following the violence and the siege for the last two months.

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