U.N. Chief Calls for Immediate Libya Cease-Fire

By John Heilprin | May 11, 2011 | 6:55 AM EDT

Geneva (AP) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called for "an immediate, verifiable cease-fire" in Libya on Wednesday and demanded unimpeded access for humanitarian workers there.

The secretary-general said he spoke with Libya's prime minister by phone late Tuesday to urge a ceasefire and demand access for U.N. staff and an end to Moammar Gadhafi's government forces from attacking civilians.

Ban said the prime minister, al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, agreed to receive a special U.N. envoy who would now travel to Tripoli to undertake "negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and unimpeded access for humanitarian workers."

Ban pronounced the uprisings across North Africa and the Arab world a rare but fragile opportunity to advance democracy and human rights. He said the movements must be "nurtured and carefully handled by the people who created it."

Ban called on all nations' patrol ships off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea to help prevent more tragedies like the apparent deaths of all 600 African migrants aboard an overcrowded ship to Europe that broke apart within sight of the Libyan capital.

"I'm disturbed by accounts of people fleeing the fighting, losing their lives at sea," Ban said. "I ask patrol vessels in the Mediterranean not to wait for distress signals to offer help. Any boat leaving Libya should be considered a boat in need of assistance and protection."

Ban said he approved of President Barack Obama's decision to send Navy SEAL commandos into Pakistan to kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

"This operation was conducted under extremely difficult, extremely dangerous situations, and that's why I expressed my relief that justice was done to this mastermind of crimes," Ban said.

Asked whether he believes NATO coalition forces are exceeding their U.N. authorization or should step their attacks to oust Gadhafi, Ban said those forces have a mandate "to take necessary military action to prevent Gadhafi forces (in their attempt) to kill those civilian population(s)."