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How Are Libyans Coping With Food, Medicine Shortages?

April 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
As rebels appealed for additional NATO assistance, France announced Wednesday it would step up airstrikes and send military advisers. The U.S. announced $25 million in nonlethal assistance for rebels. Judy Woodruff talks with U.N. Undersecretary-General Valerie Amos about the growing humanitarian crisis in Libya.
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GWEN IFILL: France said today it would step up airstrikes on Libya and send military advisers to help the rebels. And the U.S. announced $25 million in nonlethal aid for the rebels.

Judy Woodruff has more on the humanitarian situation in Misrata.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And for an update on the dire conditions, we go to Valerie Amos. She’s the United Nations undersecretary general and emergency relief coordinator, just back from a trip to Libya. She is a former Cabinet member — or minister, I should say, in the British government and a leader of the House of Lords.

Valerie Amos, thank you very much for being with us.

You are just back from this trip. What can you add to what ordinary Libyans are living with right now?

VALERIE AMOS, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs: Well, of course, it’s a terrible situation in some parts of the country, not just Misrata but elsewhere, where the violence is very intense, fighting is going on, and we’re not able to get aid to the people who need it.

I called for a cessation of hostilities, a temporary cessation, so that those people who are feeling really insecure and unsafe could leave, so we could get aid in, so we could help people who need medical help, and we could do an assessment to find out exactly what is happening.

That was turned down when I spoke to the prime minister. But I did manage to get agreement that they would allow us to travel to Misrata by road. We have not been able to do that because there are checkpoints all along that road. And, of course, when you get to Misrata, the fighting is intense.

They have guaranteed our security. So we’re trying to get a small team into Tripoli by this weekend and then to see if we can get to Misrata itself. Everyone is extremely concerned about the situation there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying they gave you permission to get into Misrata, but you’re not able to do that. So, what’s the meaning of their — of the agreement?

VALERIE AMOS: Well, we have to get our people in, our supplies first. We’re going to do that this weekend. And then we will try to get to Misrata from there by road.

We will also go in by sea, the security situation permitting. But this is a conflict zone. You can see that from the pictures on the television screen. So, getting in is not going to be easy. We’ve managed to get aid just into the port area, sometimes when the fighting is not as intense and we’re able to get in. And we have been able to get food and medical supplies in.

But they’re desperately short of people. And we need to be able to go into Misrata itself, rather than just the port area to find out for ourselves exactly what is going on.

So, getting the assurances that there will be security guarantees along the road, so that our people can get in, is extremely important. But of course, the security situation will determine how much we can do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, you have also pushed for an end to the use of cluster bombs and other deadly sorts of weaponry. What sort of success did you have with that?

VALERIE AMOS: Well, the government flatly denied that they were using cluster bombs. I made sure that they understood that as a government, they had a responsibility to look after the safety and security of their own people and raised the issue of cluster munitions. But they flatly denied that they had them or that they had used them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and I — did you get the sense that you were able to make any headway in your conversations with representatives of Col. Gadhafi?

VALERIE AMOS: Well, we got an agreement that we could establish a humanitarian presence in Tripoli, and that there would be security guarantees to enable us to get to Misrata.

That is a degree of progress. The test of that will be in its implementation. And that’s why we’re putting together the details of the team to get them in this weekend. We have to do everything we can to get to those people. They are in desperate need.

And we must remember it’s not just Misrata. There are other cities and towns that are — where fierce fighting is going on, including Nalut, where over 6,000 people have now fled to the Tunisian border.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Valerie Amos, what else do you need in order to get those — get help to the people in Misrata and these other areas or to be able to get them out to safety?

VALERIE AMOS: We need the fighting to stop. People need to appreciate and understand that it is innocent civilians who are suffering. They don’t have water; they don’t have electricity; they don’t have food.

They are being held in a situation by the violence. They are too afraid. And you can see why, because if they come out, they are under intense shelling. The fighting has got to stop.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is one side or another more responsible, or are they equally responsible at this point?

VALERIE AMOS: My call — my call is on all parties to the conflict.

I cannot take sides in this. As someone who is dealing with the humanitarian situation, the important thing is to talk to whoever I need to talk to, to try and bring this intense fighting to an end, so that we can get aid to the people who need it. That is my goal.

That is what I have got to try to achieve. I know that there are others of my colleagues who are working very hard to bring to an end the situation through political means. They have to continue to do that.

I have to do my job and try to make sure that people remember that it is innocent children, women, men, families, who are suffering as a result of this violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Valerie Amos, undersecretary-general of the United Nations, we thank you very much for talking with us.

VALERIE AMOS: Thank you.