UN moves to ease Libya sanctions

2011-07-08 14:38

Benghazi, Libya – Fearing an acute shortage of medical and other essential supplies, Libya’s rival factions are in talks with the UN to ease international sanctions on the war-torn nation.

Well-placed UN officials said representatives from Libya’s rebel council and Muammar Gaddafi’s regime held talks last week with the World Health Organisation. The talks were aimed at drawing up a list of items for sanctions relief.

The meeting with the UN agency, held in Geneva, is part of a wider drive to prevent financial sanctions slapped on Libya’s government and banks from creating a major humanitarian emergency.

Aid groups across the country have reported shortages of basic items such as vaccines and painkillers. They say stockpiles in the Gaddafi-controlled west and the rebel-held east have been rapidly whittled down after nearly five months of war.

Although some essential goods can be imported under the current sanctions regime they cannot be paid for because Libyan assets abroad are frozen and foreign banks are refusing to do business with Libyan entities.

Diplomats said Tripoli’s current quarterly order for vaccines was being held up because Dutch bank ABN-AMRO will not accept a credit note from the Bank of Libya for fear of running foul of sanctions or risking a public backlash.

Aside from emergency supplies imported by the UN and non-governmental groups, the last major delivery of medicines to the country came in January.

If the two sides could reach a deal on which items are needed on both sides of the Libyan frontline, diplomats said it would be up to Tripoli to send a request to the UN sanctions committee in New York.

The details do not yet appear to have been agreed on but could involve Libyan assets abroad being unfrozen to pay for goods or cash being transferred to the World Health Organisation to procure goods on Libya’s behalf.

The goods would then be distributed to both sides of the country.

“We need to restore the capacity of the government to procure,” said one UN official who asked not to be named. “We are really looking to try to find a solution to this problem, which is the shortage of drugs.”

The Libyan government is thought to have spent around $2 billion (about R13 billion) a year on the procurement of medicines, although some officials remarked that smarter procurement could lower that cost.

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