Caring For Misrata Is Humanitarian Groups' Battle



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

There are mixed reports from Libya this morning. Some say that government forces are pulling back from the western city of Misrata. Others claim that the government is bombarding rebel forces there. Weeks of fierce fighting between troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and the rebels have claimed hundreds of civilian lives and left tens of thousands without basic necessities.

Simon Brooks is the head of mission in Libya for the International Committee for the Red Cross. He joins us from the eastern city of Benghazi.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. SIMON BROOKS (International Committee for the Red Cross): It's a pleasure, Liane.

HANSEN: What specifically is in short supply?

Mr. BROOKS: What's really in short supply I think is sort of freedom of movement. Supplies are not getting in. I mean normal everyday supplies such as fuel, for example, that's really becoming quite an issue. You know, there are large queues of up to five kilometers long in front of service stations. The water supply to the town seems to be cut. People are living off the desalination plant. Food is getting through but, again, it's distributing that food in a coherent way which is difficult. Because I suppose the big thing for the humanitarians is to be able to stay in Misrata long enough to have an impact, and that is quite a challenge I think for most organizations.

HANSEN: How have you been able to move into areas controlled by the government and areas controlled by the rebels?

Mr. BROOKS: From the Tripoli side, we're able to approach by it by road. From Benghazi, we've had to be a little bit more creative, if I can say that. We're approaching by boat. And in fact, we're just in the process now of contracting a very large boat. (unintelligible) to take vehicles, large stocks with us, we'll be up to set up an office, as I say, to stay there for longer periods of time.

For us it's important that we can stay, we can get a foothold there, and we can do something meaningful and sustainable. And, you know, for example, visiting detainees. We started to visit detainees in the hands of the opposition in Misrata. And to do that, we need to be there for three to four days at a time. I mean this is not an activity that one can do in a couple of hours and then leave again.

HANSEN: Is there any evidence to suggest that the aid that is getting through is being confiscated by either Gadhafi forces or the rebel forces?

Mr. BROOKS: I don't think anything is being confiscated. And I really, I can only speak for operations on the opposition side. But I think what we feel in somewhere like Misrata - for a town which is, you know, large section of it is isolated - being organized, ensuring that you have the logistics capacity to distribute entirely to those who are in need is rather challenging.

So we intend to do is to help, if you like, in the distribution of a lot of the centralized food stocks and nonfood stocks, by bringing in our trucks and vehicles early next week. You know, to ensure that we get some of these stocks out to people who really need it at the moment.

HANSEN: Is there any evidence of mistreatment of detainees?

Mr. BROOKS: What I can say is that there is a remarkable commitment to allow the ICRC to conduct its work, to promote - if you like, the principles and the rules of internationality and law. And, you know, people are coming to us and saying, Look, are we doing the right thing, how can we improve, and could you advise on how we should be doing things? Yeah, I think that's rather encouraging.

HANSEN: Simon Brooks of the International Committee for the Red Cross, speaking to us from Benghazi in eastern Libya, thank you so much.

Mr. BROOKS: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.