Libya: Mine clearers start vital work

Friday, April 15, 2011


by Tobias Moe

“The sooner we start working, the more human lives we can save.”

So says ACT Alliance's mine clearance specialist, Sam Christensen, pleased that it is now possible for clearance teams to enter Libya. ACT's assessment of the area began on April 18th, and de-mining will begin in two to three weeks.

"We can prevent curious children and unsuspecting adults from encountering life-threatening unexploded ammunition,” he says.

The latest reports from the United Nations say the problem of remnants from the current conflict is extensive and very real.

ACT member DanChurchAid hopes that after getting agreement from the United Nations, the six month US$ 1 million operation will deploy two to four teams in the eastern rebel-held part of the country.

Curious children in greatest danger

Christensen fears curious children will play in abandoned tanks. Already, he has heard of two children who have been injured by unexploded ammunition.

But adults might also approach unexploded ordinances. ACT has seen examples of “ammunition tourism” in which people go to destroyed depots or tanks to gather ammunition and take it to their homes, Christensen says. He also saw this after the conflicts in Iraq and Kosovo.

“People have no idea what a hand-grenade is used for, for instance, and some get the idea of placing it on a shelf like some kind of a souvenir."

Mine clearers enter Libya

Until now, UN and ACT mine clearers have been unable to enter Libya for safety reasons. However, the National Council of Libya has now given the UN the go-ahead to operate in the country. Clearance teams entered the eastern part of the country this week.

The first task will be establishing a coordination centre where clearance experts can draw up an overview of the location of unexploded grenades, missiles and bullets - and the number of these lethal devices.

ACT specialists in the operation will also, ironically, purchase explosives in order to destroy of the dangerous ammunition.

Risk of weapons falling into wrong hands

The effort to clear the remnants of the war has a double purpose. It is also a drive to prevent explosives getting into the wrong hands. Many of the arms lying around in destroyed weapons depots in Libya are the same type that have been used in terror actions in Europe. Reports have been received of one open depot with up to 2000 earth-to-air missiles.

“These weapons must not get into the hands of the wrong people. If they are not secured or destroyed and they reach Europe, they would pose a threat against the west,” Christensen said.