May 2, 2011 / 4:31 PM / 7 years ago

Libyan mountain town facing starvation: residents

* Town of Yafran under siege by government forces

* Residents say food, medicine and water running out

* People of Yafran fleeing across border into Tunisia

By Tarek Amara

DEHIBA, Tunisia, May 2 (Reuters) - People in the Libyan rebel town of Yafran, besieged by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, are running out of food, drinking water and medical supplies, residents said on Monday.

Yafran, about 100 km (60 miles) southwest of the Libyan capital, is part of the Western Mountains region where the local population — most of them belonging to the Berber ethnic group — rose up two months ago against Gaddafi’s rule.

Towns the length of the mountain range have since come under attack by pro-Gaddafi forces, but accounts from residents who fled suggest that Yafran, one of the biggest population centres in the region, has suffered some of the worst hardship.

Fatma Douri, 35, arrived with her family two days ago at a refugee camp in the Tunisian border town of Dehiba after fleeing Yafran.

“If I had stayed there my two little daughters would have been among the dead,” she said. “Just imagine, they were without milk or food for weeks.”

“The siege of the town absolutely has to be lifted, otherwise thousands of children are going to be among the dead in the next few weeks.”

SUPPLY LINES

Western Mountain rebels seized control of the Dehiba-Wazin border crossing at the weekend from government forces, allowing some supplies to reach rebel towns.

But the supply lines — along roads periodically blocked by pro-Gaddafi forces — often do not stretch as far as Yafran, the furthest east of the region’s towns.

A Libyan man called Karim said he had crossed into Tunisia on Sunday after coming from Yafran to pick up supplies.

“The situation in Yafran is very tricky,” he said. “Life there is bad ... There is no more food.”

He said supplies had eased a little since the rebels took control of the border crossing into Tunisia. “But there are lots of shortages of medicine ... We are suffering a lot.”

Another man, Massoud Chaben, said he came from Yafran to buy fuel and food in Dehiba and the nearby Tunisian town of Tataouine. “The situation is miserable,” he said. “There isn’t even any drinking water.”

Other Yafran residents who reached Tunisia, as well as aid workers, said the town had for weeks been under artillery bombardment by pro-Gaddafi forces.

Libyan officials deny targeting civilians, and say they are fighting against “criminal armed gangs” and al Qaeda sympathisers.

Accounts from the Western Mountains region cannot be independently verified because Libyan government officials have refused reporters permission to travel to the area.

BOMBARDMENT

In another town in the region, Zintan, loyalist forces were firing rockets and also launching ground attacks, a rebel spokesman said on Monday.

“NATO struck last night in an eastern area of the town. We counted 12 missiles that landed there. A total of 10-12 tanks and vehicles were destroyed,” the spokesman, called Abdulrahman, told Reuters by telephone from Zintan.

The Dehiba-Wazin border crossing has been the scene of fierce fighting between rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces, some of it spilling over onto Tunisian soil.

Control of the crossing has see-sawed between the rebels and government forces, but on Monday the green, black and red rebel flag was flying over the border post and people were using the opportunity to flee into Tunisia.

A stream of vehicles arrived at the border checkpoint. Some families, including small children, arrived in the back of pickup trucks, crammed in between bags and bundles of blankets.

One young man who had arrived from Yafran said the hospitals there were running out of medicine. “In Yafran there is no sign of life. All we eat day and night is rockets,” he said. (Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Andrew Roche)

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