The EU can send ships to evacuate the civilian population of the rebel coastal city of Misrata, which is under siege from Muammar Gaddafi's forces, if UN humanitarian body OCHA makes such a request, European Commission officials said yesterday (6 April).
The Commission confirmed that the humanitarian situation in Misrata was "extremely worrying", but admitted that it lacked information on the latest developments (see 'Background').
Michael Mann, spokesperson for EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton, said that a decision adopted on 1 April allowed the EU to use military equipment for a humanitarian operation in a situation such the one in Misrata.
"We can launch this as soon as we receive a request from OCHA," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid, Mann said.
Before the no-fly zone was enforced, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said that the EU stood ready to help Libyans seeking refuge in Egypt and Tunisia and that it could consider evacuation by sea.
A Commission official told EURACTIV that using ships to evacuate the civilian population was indeed an option in Misrata.
According to NATO, which this week took over command of military operations in Libya from the US, Gaddafi's troops in Misrata are using civilian vehicles and are hiding their heavy weapons in civilian areas.
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told the BBC that the besieged western town "remains our number one priority […] but [Gaddafi's troops] are using human shields to protect themselves".
A BBC correspondent in rebel-held Benghazi said there was "a lot of anger" in the city about the civilian suffering in Misrata.