Libya warring parties trap civilians in Benghazi
TRIPOLI - Militias in Benghazi are trapping civilians in the strife-torn eastern Libyan city, leaving them in dire conditions without food, medical care and electricity, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The New York-based watchdog appealed to warring factions in Benghazi to give residents safe passage out of the city and to permit aid agencies access to deliver crucial supplies.
It reported that people it had interviewed on the phone last week said Libyan families and foreign civilians were among those stuck in several neighbourhoods.
One year after the launch of an offensive against Islamist militias in Benghazi, more than 1,700 people are estimated to have been killed and the capital of the 2011 revolution is reeling from near-daily clashes and shortages.
HRW said that one resident it interviewed said militants were "barring people from leaving areas under their control", while another said at least four civilians had died since March.
The watchdog quoted the Libyan army's chief of staff, Abdelrazeq al-Nadhuri, as saying that families who remained in areas affected by fighting "wanted to stay there and refused to leave".
But it also cited a Red Crescent volunteer as saying that the organisation had registered 58 people who wanted to leave but were unable to for fear of being attacked by the militias.
"As fighting in Benghazi intensifies, all the forces involved need to take all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians and civilian property," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"It's vitally important for the Libyan Army and militias in Benghazi to allow civilians safe passage and to facilitate access to take badly needed aid to the people inside."
HRW said that under international humanitarian law, all forces engaged in armed conflict must allow civilians to safely leave areas affected by fighting and give civilians "effective advance warning" of attacks that could put them at risk.