According to Reuters and other news services, Archbishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli, has apparently reported that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been wounded following recent NATO airstrikes and has probably left Tripoli. The archbishop was cited as a source for this information by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
A Libyan government spokesman brushed aside the reports, but Frattini told reporters that he believed what he had been told by Archbishop Martinelli. "I tend to give credence to the comment of the bishop of Tripoli, Monsignor Martinelli, who has been in close contact over recent weeks, when he told us that Gaddafi is very probably outside Tripoli and is probably also wounded. We don't know where or how," Frattini said. Archbishop Martinelli has been calling for a ceasefire since the start of the NATO campaign. Even as it continued over Libya's skies, the need for some sort of intervention in its waters was becoming more apparent. The UN adds another harrowing report to growing evidence of refugees and escaping guest workers voluntarily boarding or being forced by pro-Qadaffi forces into overloaded and unseaworthy boats and left adrift to their doom. An interview with the nine survivors of a craft once filled with 72 attempting to escape from Libya was conducted by UNHCR staff in Tunisia.
The 12-metre boat was severely overcrowded and soon ran out of fuel, water and food, drifting for more than two weeks before reaching a Libyan beach between Tripoli and the Tunisian border.
UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said the men gave harrowing details of the boat’s journey, with passengers forced to drink sea water or their own urine once fresh water ran out.
“They ate toothpaste. One by one people started to die,” Ms. Fleming said, detailing the account given by one of the survivors. “He said that they waited for a day or two before dropping the bodies into the sea. There were 20 women and two small children on board. A woman with a two-year-old boy died three days before he died.”
After reaching the shore, a woman died from exhaustion and the remaining survivors were taken to hospital and then to prison, but were later released after Ethiopian friends paid the jail $900.
Ms. Fleming said the Ethiopian refugees also reported that military vessels twice passed the boat without stopping and that at one point a military helicopter dropped food and water on to the boat.
The passengers had paid smugglers $800 to make the journey and were expected to operate the boat on their own.
Ms. Fleming said UNHCR is now providing the survivors with assistance in Tunisia.
Perhaps all sides might consider a time-out in the fighting so NATO's formidable capacity might be directed to recover the wounded, the dead and those lost at sea? . . . I know, not very likely.