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01.12.2011 Libya

Libya: monitoring the situation of detainees

By International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, December 1, 2011/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- In recent weeks, the ICRC has continued to visit hundreds of detainees held by various authorities in the country and to clear unexploded ordnance in Sirte and Bani Walid. It has provided 30,000 people returning to central Sirte with much-needed assistance.

"In the past 10 days alone, our delegates have visited people held in various places in Tripoli, Khoms, Tarhouna, Zawiyah, Zlitan, Misrata and Benghazi, and in Zintan, in the Nefusa mountains south-west of Tripoli," said Georges Comninos, the head of the ICRC delegation in Libya.

The ICRC's current priority is to visit all people held in detention, including officials of the former governing authorities. The purpose of the visits is to monitor the conditions in which these people are being held and the treatment they receive, and to provide medical attention where needed. Detainees are also given the opportunity to contact their families.

In recent weeks, hygiene items and blankets have been delivered for the detainees who needed them most.

Visits to detainees take place in accordance with the ICRC's customary working procedures. Its delegates tour the premises, talk in private with the people of their choice, and repeat visits as often as deemed necessary. Findings and recommendations are discussed only with the authorities concerned. The ICRC believes that this is the best way to obtain satisfactory results.

"In our numerous contacts with detaining authorities, we are underlining the strictly humanitarian nature of our work," said Mr Comninos.

Since March, the ICRC has visited over 8,500 detainees in about 60 places of detention. Most of the visits have taken place in Tripoli, Misrata and other cities nearby.

Helping people who return to Sirte

"Inhabitants of Sirte are slowly returning to their homes, except in the most devastated areas of the city, including Zone 2 and Area 700," said Mr Comninos. "In those areas, few homes have water and electricity."

Together with Libyan Red Crescent volunteers, the ICRC is continuing to deliver much-needed assistance to those returning to the centre of Sirte. So far, over 30,000 people have received food rations and items such as blankets, jerrycans and hygiene kits. Baby food and diapers are being delivered to mothers with infants.

A permanent distribution point has been set up at the youth branch of the Libyan Red Crescent where people come and take the items they need.

Clearing hundreds of unexploded devices

Parts of Sirte and Bani Walid are still dangerous owing to the presence of numerous explosive devices. In Sirte, the number of reports of such items is overwhelming.

"Accidents usually occur when the devices are handled, particularly by children, and when people try to remove items from their neighbourhoods themselves," said Jennifer Reeves, an ICRC delegate. "Over the past 20 days alone, there have been reports of at least 10 casualties occurring in such incidents in or near the city. Most victims are between 10 and 22 years old. In a village on the outskirts of Sirte, three members of the same family – a brother and sister and their grandmother – lost their lives when a device exploded."

"In Sirte, since 15 November, our staff have been physically removing items such as grenades, rockets and mortars from Ibn Sina Hospital, and from streets and houses," she added. "So far they have cleared away 240 unexploded objects, including 70 rounds of small arms ammunition. We plan to destroy the objects this week."

In Bani Walid, the ICRC has removed several hundred unexploded items since 13 November. Four roads, 45 houses, three schools and a football pitch, all in populated areas, have been cleared of ordnance.

The ICRC is training Libyan Red Crescent and other community volunteers to raise awareness among the population about the danger of handling explosive remnants of war. The ICRC and Libyan Red Crescent have erected billboards in Sirte and Bani Walid and distributed posters and leaflets. On 22 November, they launched a three-week radio campaign with five radio stations. "Radio is an effective channel to reach residents as well as displaced people, as it can be listened to everywhere," said Ms Reeves.

Medical assistance for people in Ghat and other towns in the south

While assessing needs in the southern part of the country last week, the ICRC delivered 24,000 insulin syringes and surgical supplies to treat wounded patients to Sabha Medical Centre, and 26,000 insulin syringes to Qurda Diabetic Clinic. It also delivered three sets of dressing materials and enough supplies to treat 1,000 patients both to a medical facility in Qutroun and to a facility in Ghat.

In general, Libya's health-care system is functioning again. However, the distribution of medical items to some facilities located far from the capital has not yet returned to normal.

The ICRC was the first international humanitarian organization to visit Ghat, a town on the border with Algeria, since the beginning of the conflict.

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