Hundreds evacuated in Libya ahead of Rome talks

2011-05-05 11:01

Benghazi, Libya – Hundreds of migrants and wounded people evacuated from the besieged city of Misrata reached the rebel bastion of Benghazi today as key talks opened in Rome on sending funds to Libyan insurgents.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have tightened the noose on Misrata, killing at least five people yesterday, in a more than two-month nationwide revolt which the International Criminal Court said has cost “thousands” of lives.

A ship carrying 800 migrants and civilian casualties from Misrata docked in the eastern city of Benghazi, a day after hundreds more were turned back from boarding the Red Star when it anchored because of its limited capacity.

The vessel delivered 180 tons of desperately needed humanitarian aid, including food and medical supplies, on its voyage to the port city of Misrata in western Libya.

The aid ship, a lifeline for Misrata whose land and air access is cut, had waited offshore since late Saturday for security clearance to enter port, which has been repeatedly shelled by Gaddafi’s forces.

The ship chartered by the the International Organisation for Migration also brought out 50 wounded passengers and a group of 20 journalists to Benghazi, the IOM said.

IOM staff in Geneva said they could clearly hear the sound of gunfire while they were in touch by satellite phone with their colleagues at the port during “heavy shelling” in Misrata yesterday.

With the airport in government hands, the rebels are entirely dependent on supply by sea.

Rebel-held Misrata has been surrounded by Gaddafi’s forces for the past two months with intense fighting as the two sides battle for control, as Nato minesweepers scour the waters offshore.

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in New York yesterday that Gaddafi’s regime was carrying on with killings and persecution of civilians, vowing to seek arrest warrants for three people he did not name.

The Libyan government started preparations to counter pro-democracy protests weeks before they first broke out on February 15, alerted by popular uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, he told the UN Security Council.

“As early as January, mercenaries were being hired and brought into Libya,” Moreno-Ocampo said.

“Widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population have been and continue to be committed in Libya, including murder and persecution, as crimes against humanity.”

Saying he had witnesses, videos and photos to back his case, he promised to request “arrest warrants against three individuals who appear to bear the greatest criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity” in Libya.

Diplomats have said Gaddafi is likely to be on the first list of warrants.

Libyan deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim on Tuesday dismissed Moreno-Ocampo’s findings as biased before they were even revealed. “I’m sure that any decision or any conclusion . . . will be just a one-party position,” he said.

The International Contact Group, meanwhile, meets in Rome today to decide on how to channel funds to Libyan rebels.

There was tight security in Rome with representatives of 22 countries taking part as well as Nato chief Anders Fogh
Rasmussen, whose organisation is spearheading the military campaign against Gaddafi.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Rome meeting would examine “the most effective ways to deliver financial assistance and other means” for the rebels’ council.

The council has lobbied for the emergency credit lifeline from the West to stop it running out of funds amid a virtual halt to Libyan oil exports.

The National Transitional Council has appealed for loans of up to $3 billion from the US, France and Italy to be secured on assets of the Gaddafi regime frozen abroad.

Its bid was boosted as Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was “definitely in favour of taking all necessary measures to put the maximum pressure on the Gaddafi regime” to protect civilians.

“And in that respect I think it would be helpful to make sure that the opposition can be financed properly,” he said.

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