Unexploded munitions pose major risk for civilians

News and Press Release
Originally published

As a result of the recent and ongoing fighting in Libya, weapon contamination represents a major hazard for the country's civilian population, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today.

"We are extremely worried about what we have observed here so far. Unexploded ordnance and destroyed armoured vehicles are now very much part of the landscape," said Srdjan Jovanovic, an ICRC weapon contamination specialist. "The risk for the civilian population is clear, especially as there are many conflict zones in the country."

The threat to civilians takes various forms. Unexploded or abandoned ordnance is strewn throughout areas where fighting has taken place. In addition, munitions stored in the Libyan Army bases in Ajdabiya, Benghazi and Tobruk – which were abandoned in early March – and in other areas in the eastern part of the country, are accessible to the local population. To make matters worse, some of the stores exploded, scattering the munitions over vast areas. Finally, because many armoured fighting vehicles, truck-mounted rocket launchers and other military vehicles have been destroyed in the fighting or by air strikes, unexploded ordnance is frequently found around the destroyed vehicles or inside them in unstable condition.

Libya's struggle against anti-personnel and anti-tank mines dates back to the Second World War and to the conflicts with Egypt in 1977 and Chad in 1980-1987. The borders with Egypt, Chad and Tunisia are still littered with mines and other unexploded munitions. There are also unconfirmed reports of new mine use, which is a cause for concern.

"Everyone living in areas affected by fighting should be aware of the risk posed by explosive remnants of war," said Mr Jovanovic. "We have discussed this issue with the local authorities. We plan to send additional specialized staff to provide technical support for the destruction of unexploded ordnance, to launch a mine risk education campaign and to clearly map affected areas."

People living in unsafe areas are urged to contact local authorities for reports of any unexploded munitions that have been discovered there, and not to touch dangerous or suspicious objects. Children are especially vulnerable and should be reminded of the risks. The presence and location of unexploded munitions can be reported to the local authorities or to any ICRC staff member.

For further information, please contact:

Christian Cardon, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 26 or +41 79 251 93 02