US military leader admits 'stalemate' in Libya
Libya’s capital is suffering shortages of fuel, medicine and cash despite “aspects of normalcy,” United Nations fact-finders said, as the top US military officer deemed Nato’s air campaign as at a “stalemate”.
Meanwhile, Nato said on Tuesday it had “no evidence” that civilian facilities were hit in air raids near Zliten east of Tripoli after the regime accused the alliance of destroying a clinic there and killing seven people.
But the alliance did warn it would bomb former civilian facilities, including factories, warehouses and agricultural sites, being used by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces to launch attacks.
The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Libya, Laurence Hart, said on Monday that the week-long fact-finding UN mission to Libya had identified several problems besetting Gaddafi’s regime, which has been battling rebels for the past five months.
“Although the mission observed aspects of normalcy in Tripoli, members identified pockets of vulnerability where people need urgent humanitarian assistance,” Hart said.
The health sector is under strain, having lost thousands of foreign workers at the beginning of the conflict, he said.
“Medical supplies, including vaccines, are rapidly running low, and the mission received reports of heavy psychosocial impact of the conflict, mainly on children and women,” he added.
“Although basic food items are available in the markets, prices are rising and there are concerns over the sustainability of supplies into the city especially as the (Muslim) holy month of Ramadan approaches,” said Hart.
The United Nations fact-finders also visited Khoms and Zliten, east of Tripoli and close to the frontline, as well as Garyan south of the capital, where they found “a significant” influx of internally displaced people.
“Fuel shortages have become a pressing problem, and the UN team observed long queues at gas stations, some of which had closed down,” the statement said.
“Reduced availability of cash is also a serious concern because many Libyans withdrew their savings from banks at the beginning of the crisis. Banks are restricting cash withdrawals for individual account holders.”
‘No proof clinic was hit’
In Brussels, Nato said alliance warplanes struck military targets near Zliten on Monday but there was no immediate confirmation that a clinic had also been hit.
Foreign reporters taken to Zliten by government minders and shown what they were told was the remains of a clinic hit by a Nato bomb. A local official said seven people were killed.
Alliance military spokesperson Colonel Roland Lavoie said in Brussels on Tuesday that in recent days Nato had hit a concrete factory near Brega where regime forces were hiding and firing multi-barrel rocket launchers.
“Pro-Gaddafi forces are increasingly occupying facilities which once held a civilian purpose,” Lavoie told reporters in a video news conference from the operation’s headquarters in Naples, Italy.
Such sites include stables, agricultural facilities, commercial and industrial warehouses, factories and basic food processing plants.
“By occupying and using these facilities the regime has transformed them into military installations from which it commands and conducts attacks, causing them to lose their formerly protected status and rendering them valid and necessary military objectives for Nato,” Lavoie said.
Nato’s daily operational update said it had hit a military facility, armoured vehicles, tanks and light military vehicles around Brega on Monday.
It also hit a command centre, anti-aircraft weapons, multiple rocket launchers and a military vehicle in the Tripoli area and armoured fighting vehicles near Garyan.
In Washington, Admiral Michael Mullen spoke of “stalemate” in Nato’s Libya campaign, but still voiced optimism that Gaddafi would go.
“We are, generally, in a stalemate,” said Mullen, chairperson of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He added that Nato has “dramatically attrited [reduced] his forces” and “additional pressure has been brought.
“In the long run, I think it’s a strategy that will work ... [toward] removal of Gaddafi from power,” Mullen said.
In London, meanwhile, a diplomatic source denied that Britain had changed its strategy on Libya after Foreign Secretary William Hague demanded on Monday that Gaddafi step down but said he might be allowed to stay in the country.
Speaking before meeting French counterpart Alain Juppe, Hague said Britain would prefer for Gaddafi to leave Libya and stressed that London and Paris were “absolutely united” in Nato’s current mission against Gaddafi.
“What is absolutely clear, as Alain [Juppe] has said, is that whatever happens, Gaddafi must leave power,” said Hague, who had previously indicated he wanted the strongman to leave Libya.—Sapa-AFP