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Last Updated: 17 September 2011

Mine Action

Contamination and Impact

Libya is contaminated with mines, cluster munition remnants, and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) as a result of internal and international armed conflict in 2011 as well as earlier conflicts. According to the UN, Libya faces a significant mine and ERW threat following the recent conflict, with “serious humanitarian challenges” due to unexploded ordnance (UXO) and abandoned explosive ordnance (AXO), newly laid mines, ammunition management concerns, the use of cluster munitions, and the high number of small arms and light weapons among the civilian population.[1] The precise extent and impact of the problem was not known, however, as no nationwide survey has yet been conducted.[2]


Libya is contaminated with mines as a result of fighting during World War II in North Africa, as well as conflicts with Egypt in 1977 and Chad in 1980–1987. The borders with Chad, Egypt, and Tunisia are said to be affected by mines, as are areas in the north and south of the country. In July 2011, Human Rights Watch reported that some facilities in Libya were protected by minefields, such as an ammunition storage area (ASA) outside of Ajdabiya, which was partially surrounded by a minefield marked solely by a deteriorating fence.[3]

Additional contamination resulted from the conflict in 2011, which was ongoing as the Monitor was going to press. The first reports of pro-Qaddafi forces emplacing new mines began to emerge in late March 2011.[4] Human Rights Watch has confirmed government use of antipersonnel mines and antivehicle mines in at least six separate locations: Ajdabiya, Khusha, Misrata, and three locations near to al-Qawalish.[5] Media reports have referred to use in additional locations that cannot yet be verified independently. In July 2011, for example, there were claims of significant mine contamination in and around the city of Brega,[6] and reports of some contamination in Zlitan.[7]

The rebel forces also used a number of antivehicle mines in April 2011, breaking a pledge to Human Rights Watch that they would not do so. They subsequently renewed a commitment not to use any mines, which was approved by the National Transitional Council.[8]

Cluster munition remnants

The precise extent of contamination from cluster munition remnants is not known. In April 2011, Human Rights Watch and The New York Times documented the use of cluster munitions by government forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in residential areas of the city of Misrata. Human Rights Watch observed at least three cluster munitions explode over the el-Shawahda neighborhood of Misrata on the night of 14 April 2011. It subsequently interviewed witnesses to two other apparent cluster munition strikes and found that submunitions appeared to have landed about 300 meters from Misrata hospital.[9] The extent of residual contamination is not known.

Mines Advisory Group (MAG) conducted a rapid assessment of contamination in Misrata at the end of May 2011 and reported, “The presence of UXO and cluster munitions is extensive. … Conclusive evidence of cluster munition use was found at three sites, and the probability of finding additional contamination in other currently inaccessible areas of the city is very high.”[10]

In June 2011, MAG reported that makeshift street “museums” in Misrata were displaying a large range of munitions, including unexploded submunitions, and attracting hundreds of curious visitors every day. MAG displayed a photograph on its website of a man holding a submunition in each hand, which it described as “a disaster waiting to happen.”[11]

While it has not been confirmed, contamination from unexploded submunitions may also have occurred from air strikes on ASAs that contained stockpiled cluster munitions, causing submunitions to be ejected into the surrounding area.

There may also be some residual contamination from World War II.[12] On 27 November 2009, a commercial oil company survey crew in Libya found remnants of a German World War II-era “butterfly bomb” (an early version of a cluster bomb). Subsequently, an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) expert identified six more such cluster munition remnants.[13]

Other explosive remnants of war

Contamination from both UXO and AXO is believed to be extremely heavy, but the precise extent was not known as of August 2011. The UN stated that: “As operations continue and as access within Libya increases, the scope of the ERW threat throughout Libya is being further understood. There is a need to expand the current capacities of the JMACT [Joint Mine Action Coordination Team; see Mine Action Program section below] partners in order to increase clearance and risk education [RE] activities throughout Libya to reduce the impact that ERW has on the civilian population. There is also a need for more survey capacities in order to more effectively assess the levels of contamination in the many different areas affected by the conflict.”[14]

Mine Action Program

Key institutions and operators


Situation on 1 January 2011

National Mine Action Authority


Mine action center


International demining operators

A number of commercial companies, including Mechem and RPS Explosives Engineering Services

National demining operators

Armed forces

Ministry of Interior and Justice’s Civil Protection Unit

Libya did not have a fully fledged mine action program in 2010, despite the announcement in 2005 of a “national campaign” to remove mines along the borders with Egypt and Chad and a conference in November 2008, which sought to support efforts towards establishing a civilian mine action program.[15]

There was also no fully functioning national mine action authority or mine action center, although a Libyan organization, the Libyan Demining Association (LDA, formerly known as the Anti-Mines Association), claimed in 2009 to be fulfilling some of the roles of a mine action center.[16] A National Program for Demining and Land Reclamation, established by the General People’s Committee and headed by the Minister of International Cooperation, was said to be the institution authorized to prepare general plans and policies for mine action in Libya.[17]

UNDP Libya had announced a mine action capacity building project for calendar year 2009. The aims of the project were to “develop and modernize the national structures and standards of the Libyan Government and the Anti-Mines Association already in place in order to better address the risk posed by landmines and ERW in Libya.”[18] It was reported that no chief technical advisor was hired, as planned, during 2009.[19] This project has since been overtaken by other events.

The conflict in 2011 led to the involvement of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and several NGO operators in new mine action operations, especially in the east of the country. UNMAS reported that to ensure the mine action response to the mine/ERW threat in Libya is coordinated, the UN and international NGOs have partnered to form a “Joint Mine Action Coordination Team” (JMACT).[20] JMACT partners include Danish Demining Group, DanChurchAid (DCA), Handicap International (HI), Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP), the ICRC, Norwegian People’s Aid, MAG, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), UNICEF, and UNMAS.[21]

Land Release

In the past, the Ministry of Defense and the Civil Protection Unit, located within the Ministry of Interior and Justice, have each had responsibilities for various aspects of mine action. The Ministry of Defense is reported to clear areas serving either a military or civilian development purpose. In previous years, the Civil Protection Unit is said to have carried out clearance in affected communities.[22]

Mine clearance in 2010

Libya has not reported on mine clearance in 2010 or in previous years. In 2011, former deminers who had defected from Qaddafi’s army were said to be clearing mines to aid the rebel forces’ military operations, but clearance did not appear to meet humanitarian standards.[23] Humanitarian mine and battle area clearance was being conducted by DCA, FSD, and MAG as of mid-2011.[24]

Clearance of cluster munition contaminated areas in 2010

Libya has not reported on clearance of cluster munition remnants or other ERW in 2010 or in previous years, although as noted above, a commercial company cleared World War II submunitions and other ordnance in 2009. Due to the ongoing conflict, as of August 2011 the Monitor was not able to provide detailed information on the status of the clearance of cluster munition remnants. In July 2011, however, it was reported that MAG and DCA had found parts of a cluster munition casing and four unexploded submunitions at Al Dafaniya, west of Misrata, which were all subsequently destroyed.[25]

Other Risk Reduction Measures

To respond to the immediate threat from ERW, including cluster munition remnants, UNICEF and HI have initiated a mine/ERW RE program in Libya. As of July 2011, direct sessions with trained volunteers were underway in internally displaced person (IDP) camps in areas of eastern Libya, including Ajdabiya, Benghazi, and Misrata.[26] In addition, more than 30,000 information leaflets had been distributed to IDP communities in Ajdabiya, Benghazi, Brega, and Misrata in addition to Tunisian border areas.

Mosques, local radio stations, and civil society groups have also disseminated safety messages in their local communities.[27] As of mid-July, HI reported that it had intervened in 23 IDP camps in Benghazi, providing more than 2,000 people (mostly children) with emergency RE. Private companies, local authorities, and other associations have also benefited from RE.[28]


[1] See, for example, UN, “Joint Mine Action Coordination Team – Libya, Weekly Report #13,” 15 August 2011, p. 1, www.mineaction.org.

[2] See, for example, UNDP, “Capacity building to support the Demining Association and the Government of Libya in Mine Action activities,” Project summary, undated, www.undp-libya.org.

[3] Human Rights Watch, “Landmines in Libya: Technical Briefing Note,” 19 July 2011, www.hrw.org.

[4] Human Rights Watch, “Libya: Government Use of Landmines Confirmed, Rebel Forces Pledge Not to Use Mines,” 30 March 2011, www.hrw.org.

[5] Human Rights Watch, “Landmines in Libya: Technical Briefing Note,” 19 July 2011, www.hrw.org.

[6] See, for example,  Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, “For Libyan Rebels, Gadhafi’s Mines A Potent Obstacle,” NPR, 19 July 2011, www.npr.org

[7] Human Rights Watch, “Landmines in Libya: Technical Briefing Note,” 19 July 2011, www.hrw.org.

[8] Human Rights Watch, “Libya: Rebels Pledge Not to Use Landmines, Transitional Council Bans Antipersonnel, Antivehicle Mines,” 29 April 2011, www.hrw.org.

[9] For details, see ICBL-CMC, “Country Profile: Libya: Cluster Munition Ban Policy,” www.the-monitor.org, 14 September 2011. See also Human Rights Watch fact sheet: “Cluster Munition Use in Libya,” 27 June 2011, www.hrw.org; C. J. Chivers, “Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas,” New York Times, 15 April 2011, www.nytimes.com; and Human Rights Watch, “Libya: Cluster Munitions Strike Misrata,” Press release, 15 April 2011, www.hrw.org.

[10] MAG, “Libya: Assessment mission shows need for urgent response in Misrata,” 1 June 2011, www.maginternational.org.

[11] MAG, “Libya: Remnants of conflict continue to pose huge threat to civilians,” 22 June 2011, www.maginternational.org.

[12] See, for example, Daniel P. Bolger, Americans at War: 1975-1986, An Era of Violent Peace (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1988), p. 423.

[13] Daily report by Jan-Ole Robertz, EOD Technical Advisor, Countermine Libya, 27 November 2009.

[14] UN, “Joint Mine Action Coordination Team – Libya, Weekly Report #13,” 15 August 2011, p. 1, www.mineaction.org.

[15] See, for example, UNDP, “UNDP Participates in International Conference on Demining for Development,” undated, www.undp-libya.org.

[16] Email from Abdulmonem Alaiwan, Administration and Public Relations Director, LDA, 22 September 2009.

[17] Email from Abdulmonem Alaiwan, Administration and Public Relations Director, LDA, 29 June 2009.

[18] UNDP, “Capacity Building to Support the Demining Association and the Government of Libya in its Demining Activities,” Project summary, undated, www.undp-libya.org.

[19] Email from Abdulmonem Alaiwan, LDA, 15 March 2010.

[20] UNMAS, “Joint Mine Action Coordination Team – Libya (JMACT),” undated but 2011, www.mineaction.org.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Interview with Dr. Taher Siala, Assistance Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation, in Tripoli, 12 May 2005.

[23] See, for example, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, “For Libyan Rebels, Gadhafi’s Mines A Potent Obstacle,” NPR, 19 July 2011, www.npr.org

[24] See, for example, UN, “Joint Mine Action Coordination Team – Libya, Weekly Report #13,” 15 August 2011, p. 1, www.mineaction.org

[25] UN, “Joint Mine Action Coordination Team – Libya, Weekly Report # 9, 18 July 2011,” p. 4.

[26] HI, “Libye: Diffusion des messages de prévention contre les mines” (“Libya: Dissemination of mine risk education messages”), 12 July 2011, www.handicap-international.fr.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.