Libyan government promises aid workers access, UN says

The BBC's Orla Guerin spoke to rebels and migrants evacuated from Misrata on a rescue ship

The Libyan government has promised aid workers access to areas under its control, according to the UN.

UN officials say the agreement allows humanitarian workers to set themselves up in the capital, Tripoli, and to come and go freely into Libya.

Meanwhile, about 1,000 people who were evacuated from Misrata have arrived in the rebel base of Benghazi.

Pro-Gaddafi forces have been pounding Misrata for days and hundreds of people are thought to have been killed.

Those evacuated were brought out on a ship chartered by the aid agency, the International Organisation for Migration, which says thousands more are waiting to be rescued.

'Vehicles and equipment'

The UN food agency said on Tuesday it had started moving food supplies for civilians through a new humanitarian corridor into western Libya.

A convoy of trucks loaded with 240 tonnes of wheat flour and high-energy biscuits crossed from Tunisia on Monday, the World Food Programme said.

Colonel Gaddafi's spokesman Moussa Ibrahim says the UN will be allowed humanitarian access into the besieged city of Misrata.

Rebel forces on Monday said they were making ground in Misrata, but that pro-Gaddafi forces were continuing to press the rebel-held town of Ajdabiya in the east.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, at the UN, says that the Libyan authorities have promised aid workers and their equipment access to all areas under their control.

The besieged city of Misrata remains mostly in rebel control, but is running short of basic food and medical supplies.

For aid workers to help the people there the fighting would have to stop, but according to the UN the government has not committed itself to a ceasefire.

The head of Nato's military operations in Libya, Canadian Lt Gen Charles Bouchard, said Col Gaddafi's forces had employed "underhand and immoral" tactics in their seven-week campaign to dislodge the rebels from the city.

"Inside the city it's a very difficult tough situation," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Gaddafi forces have taken their uniforms off, they're hiding on rooftops of mosques, hospitals, schools, that's where their heavy equipment is positioned, near mosques, near schools, and they're shielding themselves with women and children.

"So when people ask me why aren't you doing something, well I'm not going to lower to his level. I'm not going to do the kind of warfare that he's doing. My job's to help the population."

Gen Bouchard added that the conflict in Misrata was like a knife-fight in a phone booth.

'Limited time'

Meanwhile, the Ionian Spirit arrived in the eastern city of Benghazi carrying nearly 1,000 foreign workers and wounded Libyans from the city of Misrata.

Some of those who reached Benghazi on Monday evening accused Col Gaddafi's forces of firing indiscriminately.

The IOM has said that thousands more people in Misrata were waiting to be rescued from what it described as an increasingly perilous situation.

"We had a very limited time to get the migrants and Libyans on board the ship and then leave," said Jeremy Haslam, who led the IOM rescue mission.

"Although the exchange of fire subsided while we were boarding."

Start Quote

We wanted to be able to take more people out but it was not possible”

End Quote Jeremy Haslam IOM

The UK has pledged to pay for the evacuation of 5,000 people from Misrata.

A rebel spokesman in Misrata told Reuters on Monday they had "made progress" in the city and were "controlling some areas surrounding Tripoli Street".

However, he said rebel fighters were facing snipers and troops armed with rocket-propelled grenades.

Despite last month's UN resolution authorising air strikes to protect civilians in Libya, rebels have been unable to retain territory during fighting along the coastal towns of eastern Libya.

Col Gaddafi is defying international pressure to step down despite the revolt against his 41-year rule that began in Benghazi in February.

The head of the rebel Transitional National Council is visiting Rome to discuss the situation with top officials, including Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Italy has joined France in recognising the council as the only legitimate representative of Libya's people.

Mr Abdul Jalil flew to Italy from Qatar, which has offered the rebels diplomatic and financial backing.

Speaking at a news conference, he said Italy, France and Qatar would be "favoured" in future relations with the rebel administration.

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