Libya’s cities left ‘re-contaminated’ by explosives by months of fighting

A file photo of a Libyan demining expert, operates in a mine field in the vicinity of the Mitiga International Airport, near Tripoli, Libya. EPA/SABRI ELMHEDWI

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Ongoing hostilities in Libya have left numerous cities severely “re-contaminated” with unexploded ordnance, threatening schools, universities and hospitals, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) said.

The warning about hazardous military hardware – often referred to by the acronym UXO – came during a meeting of mine action experts at the UN in Geneva.

It follows months of conflict in the suburbs of Tripoli between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (or GNA) and the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by commander Khalifa Haftar, who laid siege to the capital last April.

At UN-led talks earlier this month between the two sides aiming to secure a lasting ceasefire, UN negotiator Ghassan Salamé noted that there were at least 20 million “pieces of ordnance” in Libya.

“Expenditure of ordnance and the threat posed by explosive remnants of war has increased, and sadly, many of the areas that were previously cleared of UXO have now been re-contaminated as a result of the fighting”, said Bob Seddon, a Threat Mitigation Officer with UNMAS in Libya.

“Libya has the world’s largest uncontrolled ammunitions stockpile”, he added. “It is estimated that there are between 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of uncontrolled munitions across Libya.”

This vast – and in some cases abandoned – weapons store has created massive insecurity inside the country and beyond its borders.

“It has taken the Libyan security forces out of the war in terms of the fight against Al Qaeda and Daesh (ISIL) in the south of the country,” Mr. Seddon explained, on the sidelines of the United Nations International Meeting of Mine Action National Directors and UN Advisers.

“It’s causing a problem right across Africa now”, he said, noting that he had never seen such high levels of weapons contamination in his 40-year career.

With the number of internally displaced in Libya estimated at around 343,000 last year – an 80 per cent increase on 2018 – the UNMAS expert insisted that “it’s the Libyan people that are facing the full impact” of protracted insecurity that has followed the overthrow of former President Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.

So far this year, at least 647 civilians have been killed or injured in Libya, the majority in Tripoli, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Because of the current hostilities, only a limited number of UNMAS staff remain active in Libya.

%d bloggers like this: