Landmines put Libyan civilians at risk after conflict ceases

Demining expert says clearance personnel often fall victim

22 June, 13:56

    (ANSA) - TRIPOLI, JUNE 22 - The Libyan Center for Mine Action and War Remnants said 39 people died and 71 were wounded after 53 landmines left over by General Khalifa Haftar's forces exploded following the forces' withdrawal from southern Tripoli.

    Landmines and explosive traps represent major hazards for civilians, who were forced to flee for nearly 14 months due to the war that broke out here. Despite the fact that the war in southern Tripoli has ended, deaths continue to mount, and many of the victims are from mine clearance teams. Khaled Jibril, head of the awareness department at the Libyan Mine Action and War Remnants Center, said 50 of the 110 victims were from mine clearance teams, representing 46% of casualties overall. Rabie Jawashi, director of programs for the Free Fields Organization, which provides support to authorities in demining operations, described the situation as "bad." In the Sidra area, which was one of the one of the main battle lines south of Tripoli, mine clearance teams from the Free Fields Organization are working together with military engineering teams at a place they call "zero point", where the teams commence daily operations to remove mines and receive reports. When Jawashi entered the area on one recent day, he headed towards a destroyed neighborhood and saw a sign that said: "No entry, there are mines". Despite the warning, residents had already reentered to check on their homes, and some had even begun restoration work. The Libyan Ministry of Local Government estimated that about 125,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in southern Tripoli, where Haftar's forces were holed up for many months. Hundreds of thousands of families - nearly half a million people - were forced to flee their homes because of the warfare. Jawashi said the presence of civilians is one of the most common causes of confusion during mine clearance work. In a video he had taken just days prior, a local resident was shown holding two explosive devices attached to detonation wires at the same time Jawashi was working. "Spontaneous actions by residents cause confusion and may lead to disaster," he said. Just days earlier, one of Jawashi's cousins was killed while working to clear mines. When the mine that killed Jawashi's cousin detonated, it also amputated his colleague's legs. On an unpaved dirt road south of Tripoli, Jawashi recovered the remnants of an explosive mine that he said was an advanced Russian mine his teams had not dealt with before. Gunmen loyal to the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) believe that this type of mine was planted by mercenaries with the Russian Wagner Company, which provided military support to Haftar in his campaign to seize Tripoli. Jawashi said on this same street lined with homes, four people specialised in mine clearance were killed and four others were wounded when mines exploded. A total of 107 mines have been removed from the street, with more that have not yet been discovered or removed. GNA government forces said more than 2,000 mines have been removed, damaged, or destroyed in recent weeks in this area. The mines used in the conflict were not only ready-made, but also local and handmade, known as booby traps. These makeshift explosive devices, some of which were attached to the doors of houses, killed many civilians. One type of booby trap device found was a 120-mm mortar shell connected to a teddy bear, which would detonate when the bear was touched or moved. Another was an explosive fixed with electrical tape inside a toilet tank, which would detonate when a person sat on the toilet. Due to its limited capabilities and lack of personnel qualified to deal with advanced mines, the GNA has called on the international community to provide assistance. GNA officials held a meeting last week with an Italian military delegation to examine the possibility of providing Italian support for mine clearance. After a request by the GNA, Turkey sent a landmine-removal expert from the Turkish Armed Forces to work on clearing civilian areas in Tripoli to allow civilians to return to their homes. Since World War II, Libya has been a land of war and mine waste, and the issue of mines and remnants of war has been a thorny and complicated issue in the country for decades. The Free Fields Organization, with the support of the Italian government, has carried out many demining operations, including the clearance of about 9,000 mines from the Mitiga International Airport and the former Mitiga military airbase in Tripoli in 2012 and 2013. (ANSA).

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