News Column

U.N., EU Teams Race to Libya Amid Fighting

March 7, 2011

Government-backed forces struck the rebel-controlled town of Ras Lanuf in eastern Libya Monday and claimed victory in the fight for Bin Jawad, witnesses said.

Planes flew over the Ras Lanuf area and opposition fighters fired anti-aircraft guns at them, CNN reported.

In Bin Jawad, reports indicate the Libyan army controls the city after a weekend of fighting in which at least five people died.

Anti-government protesters are seeking the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi who has ruled the country for nearly 42 years.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a special envoy to Libya to discuss the crisis with officials in Tripoli, the United Nations said Monday in a statement.

Abdelilah al-Khatib, an ex-foreign minister of Jordan, was appointed to "undertake urgent consultations with the authorities in Tripoli and in the region on the immediate humanitarian situation as well as the wider dimensions of the crisis," the statement said.

Violence in western Libya has claimed "large numbers of lives and threatens even more carnage in the days ahead," the statement said.

Ban said civilians were bearing the brunt of the violence and called on Gadhafi's government to end its "disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets."

The European Union also sent a crisis team to Libya Monday. The team, through the European External Action Service, is led by crisis-response expert Agostino Miozzo of Italy, the EU said in a statement.

The team is initially to decide how the 27 EU member states can provide humanitarian and other aid to Libya's people.

In Misrata, witnesses said opposition forces held off an onslaught by Gadhafi's troops to keep control of the city, CNN reported. Rebel fighters used machine guns, sticks and any other weapons they could find to repel Gadhafi militias armed with tanks and heavy artillery, the witness said.

"The will and the determination and dedication that people are showing here on the ground, it just makes you speechless," he said.

A doctor said 42 people were killed in Sunday's fighting. Various rights groups have estimated at least 1,000 people have been killed since the uprising began last month. A Libyan diplomat puts the death toll closer to 2,000.

About 200,000 people have fled Libya into Tunisia and Egypt, the U.N. refugee agency has said.

Several hundred expatriates from Mali gathered outside Mali's embassy in Tripoli, seeking assistance to leave Libya, CNN reported. Many said they were migrant workers who no longer have any work.

On the Sunday U.S. talk-show circuit, Republican lawmakers pressed President Obama to consider providing arms and and training for the rebels.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told CBS's "Face the Nation" that "arming the insurgents" could be an option, citing U.S. efforts against the Soviets during the Cold War as a model.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona told ABC's "This Week" that Washington could help the rebels through humanitarian and technical assistance, intelligence and training, and declaring support for the rebels' provisional government.

Source: Copyright United Press International 2011

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