June 7, 2011 / 4:18 PM / 7 years ago

Aid crisis looms in Libya, UN refugee agency warns

GENEVA (Reuters) - An aid crisis looms in Libya, as shortages of fuel and other essentials grow in both rebel- and government-held areas, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.

At least 1,000 people, mainly men, have been kidnapped or disappeared in Misrata since the conflict began in February, UNHCR quoted aid workers and rights groups in the western city as saying. It could not confirm their accounts.

The report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, based on missions to both sides of the frontline last week, came as NATO aircraft hit Tripoli in the most sustained bombardment of the capital since Western forces began air strikes in March.

“An aid crisis could be looming,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing. “If this situation continues, (more) international aid is likely to be needed within weeks.”

Although warehouses are currently well-stocked with basic food items, the protracted conflict and sanctions are eroding the government’s ability to deliver assistance effectively to civilians, it said. Libya is a net importer of food.

Long queues for petrol, including one stretching more than 8 kms, were seen in Tripoli, slowing the flow of goods, it said.

Rebels control the east of Libya around Benghazi, where the rebel council is based, and a mountain range stretching from the town of Zintan, 150 km (95 miles) south of Tripoli, towards the western border with Tunisia.

“CRITICAL SHORTAGES”

“Throughout Libya, east and west, they are facing critical shortages. The longer the conflict, the more critical the needs become,” UNHCR spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes told Reuters.

“At the moment on both sides of the battles lines, the majority of support is coming from within Libya. But those coping mechanisms are becoming much more fragile,” she added.

UNHCR officials took part in two inter-agency missions, one to Tripoli and the Western Mountains, and the other to rebel-held Misrata. Nearly 50,000 people uprooted by fighting are camped between Tripoli and the western town of Zlitan.

In Misrata, some 25,000 displaced people are believed to be staying in overcrowded homes. “People have not received salaries since January and banks are not operational,” Edwards said.

A woman in Misrata told UNHCR that her three brothers-in-law had been abducted. “The two who were later freed said they had been taken to a government camp in Zlitan where they had to pledge allegiance before being trained and forced to fight on the government side,” he said.

Misrata is facing food and medicine shortages, UNHCR quoted the Misrata transitional council as saying.

At least 643 people have been killed and 6,000 wounded in Misrata as of June 1, Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization said, reporting on its visit there last week.

The majority of victims were civilians, he said.

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