Libya

MAG responds to emergency in Libya

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Technical expert in unexploded ordnance (UXO) is first specialist to arrive in Benghazi to assess threat from landmines, abandoned weapons and UXO

NOTICE: Andy Gleeson, MAG's EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) and landmine clearance specialist is currently in Benghazi and is available for interview. He can give a technical perspective on the potential humanitarian impact that abandoned weapons, UXO, landmines and weapons looted from unsecure stores could have. Please contact Kate Wiggans 0161 238 5445 / 07979 343969 / kate.wiggans@maginternational.org if you have a representative in Libya who would like contact Andy.

Thursday 7 April: As the conflict in Libya continues the risk to civilians from unexploded ordnance (UXO) and a proliferation of weapons and ammunition looted from unsecure stores is increasingly clear. There have been credible reports of newly-laid minefields, which is also a serious concern. A rapid response to this emergency was vital to reduce the lethal damage these weapons and remnants of conflict can do – both to civilians and to other aid agencies needing safe access to people in need.

MAG's emergency response team was mobilised in mid-March, and since then has been working with other actors and agencies in the region to provide active support for reducing this threat. On Tuesday 5 April an expert member of MAG's technical staff with decades of experience in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and landmine clearance arrived in Benghazi. MAG was the first, and is currently the only, agency specialising in emergency response to landmine contamination, risks posed by UXO and unsecured stockpiles of munitions to have a presence in eastern Libya.

Since arriving, MAG's international technical expert Andy Gleeson has been assessing the situation and establishing how MAG can provide a rapid specialist response to the growing crisis. Andy has met with members of the National Transitional Council, and travelled widely round the city. This is his report: "I came into Benghazi from the east through Tobruk and on the way saw a lot of scattered UXO. This is worrying as the situation is relatively calm in the east of Libya, so people are likely to begin walking and travelling around more freely, and that's when they get hurt or killed. "Since arriving in Benghazi I've travelled around a lot and noted, as widely reported in the media, a lot of bombed out vehicles including tanks and Grad missile launchers that have been abandoned. My main concerns are that whatever weapons were left in these vehicles have already gone. "I've seen dozens of abandoned munitions, especially in outlying areas of the city, and one ammunition supply point that was severely damaged and had definitely had stocks removed. I've heard reports of many more and this is a major concern – these stores hold thousands of deadly weapons including landmines, mortars, guns and surface to air missiles – which can pose a massive risk to security and if tampered with can kill.

"I heard of people collecting and keeping hold of munitions to fight with, as if preparing for a doomsday scenario. I don't know what condition these weapons and munitions are in – they could be damaged, or primed to explode. The need to educate people about the dangers they face is immediately apparent.

"I can see a real danger to people here in Libya, but there are ways MAG can help support the authorities here to reduce risks to local people. Like before in Lebanon, Iraq and Kosovo, we can really make a difference to people's safety. That's what we're good at.

"We can provide targeted risk education messages for the civilian population, teaching about risky behaviour, the specific dangers landmines and UXO present, and how to alert the authorities to a suspected threat. With the right capacity MAG could safely remove and destroy the weapons that have been abandoned, or didn't explode when fired. We could help secure the exposed weapons stores to prevent further looting. "Getting specialist teams in to remove the threat as soon as possible is absolutely vital. My job here is to assess the situation and as soon as we have the funds we will start making areas safe and saving lives in the process."

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For more information on MAG's work, our emergency response in Libya, or to request an interview, please contact Kate Wiggans, Press and Communications Officer in the UK on + (0) 161 238 5445 / + (0) 7939 343969 / kate.wiggans@maginternational.org. Alternatively, please visit our website www.maginternational.org