Escalating violence in an oasis town in Libya has resulted in a significant number of civilian casualties this month, killing 90 and wounding more than 200 others, the United Nations reported this week.
Echoing the concerns of other U.N. agencies, Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), declared on Tuesday:
Casualties on all sides of the fighting [in the oasis town of Murzuq] have continued as a result of airstrikes by planes and drones, indiscriminate rocket attacks and shelling, and direct fighting on the ground.
“Casualties on all sides of the fighting have continued as a result of airstrikes by planes & drones, indiscriminate rocket attacks & shelling, and direct fighting on the ground,” — @UNOCHA provides an update on the civilians caught in cross-fighting in #Murzuq, south #Libya. pic.twitter.com/hjGHAHrqqu
— UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) August 20, 2019
He revealed that children are among the casualties, noting:
It is a civilian area. It’s in a country where people tend – families tend – to be big and there are many children. …At least six children, two of them were killed, four of them were injured in a strike that hit a house, hosting internally displaced people on 8 August.
Since the beginning of August, the chaotic conditions in and around the town of Murzuq have also displaced 9,450 “terrified” people, the U.N. added.
The civilians in the oasis town are victims of ongoing clashes between renegade Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and forces loyal to the U.N.-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA).
LNA troops are fighting on behalf of the breakaway government in eastern Libya’s Tobruk region. Support from Russia, France, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have allowed the Libyan warlord and his troops to take over most of Libya.
Chaos has engulfed Libya since the U.S.-backed overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The two rival governments are competing for power as jihadi groups entrench themselves in the oil-rich North African nation.
Security conditions have deteriorated further since Haftar launched an offensive to push the GNA out of its home base in th Libyan capital of Tripoli.
Many civilians are “too terrified to seek safety,” Laerke pointed out, adding that they want to avoid the perception that they support one side over the other.
[Many civilians] are of course terrified that if they move, they will be perceived as affiliated to one side of the other and maybe targeted. Some families are reluctant to leave the affected areas because they are afraid of reprisals.
The OCHA official urged the warring parties to allow people to leave if they so desire “so they can reach a place where they can be assisted.”
Laerke stressed that “Murzuq, a town of fewer than 13,000 people, is facing a humanitarian crisis,” Voice of America (VOA) noted.
“He said people desperately need medical supplies, food, water and sanitation, tents, blankets, and hygiene kits,” the news outlet added.
According to Laerke, however, the U.N. and partner humanitarian organizations “are responding with emergency health care, food distribution, shelter, and non-food items.”
He said access remains challenging “due to the active fighting.”
In recent months, internal investigations have found pervasive corruption and ethic violations within U.N. aid agencies, including the theft of millions of assistance funds and sexual misconduct.