UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday called for an “immediate, verifiable ceasefire” in Libya, where rebels are fighting to end Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s 41 years in power.
Ban was speaking in Geneva after talking with Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi. There was no immediate direct response from the rebels or government.
Qaddafi’s government has made several ceasefire declarations, but has continued its attacks on the besieged western city of Misrata and other rebel-held areas.
“He [Mahmoudi] even suggested the Libyan government was willing to have an immediate ceasefire with a monitoring team to be established by the United Nations and the African Union,” Ban told a news conference.
“But first and foremost there should be an end to the fighting in Misrata and elsewhere. Then we will be able to provide humanitarian assistance and in parallel we can continue our political dialogue,” Ban said.
Rebels said on Tuesday they made gains by driving back Qaddafi’s troops on the eastern and western edges of Misrata and encircling them at the airport.
The rebels also said they had taken the town of Zareek, about 25km west of Misrata, but no independent verification of their statements was available.
Misrata, besieged by Qaddafi’s forces for eight weeks, is the only major city the rebels hold in the west of the country.
NATO launched missile strikes on Tuesday in the Tripoli area on targets that appeared to include Qaddafi’s compound, witnesses said. NATO said later it carried out a strike against a government command and control post in the capital.
After three months of revolt linked to this year’s uprisings in other Arab countries, the war has reached a stalemate. Rebels hold Benghazi and other towns in the oil-producing east, while the government controls the capital and almost all of the west.
Thousands have been killed in the fighting in the vast country, which has a population of more than 6 million.
The proximity of Qaddafi’s forces to civilian areas made it hard for NATO to carry out its mandate of protecting civilians, Brigadier-General Claudio Gabellini, chief operations officer of NATO’s Libya mission, told reporters in Brussels.
NATO had still managed to destroy more than 30 military targets in Misrata since April 29.
“Pro-Qaddafi forces have continued to shell the citizens of Misrata with long-range artillery, mortars and rockets, indiscriminately firing high explosive rounds into the city,” Gabellini said.
The Libyan government said NATO’s intervention was an act of colonial aggression by Western powers bent on stealing the country’s oil. The war has caused misery for tens of thousands forced to flee overland or by boat. Aid agencies said witnesses reported a vessel carrying between 500 and 600 people foundered late last week near Tripoli and that many bodies were seen in the water.