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Last Updated: 29 October 2014

Mine Action

Contamination and Impact

The State of Libya is contaminated with mines, cluster munition remnants, and a wide array of other explosive remnants of war (ERW) as a result of internal and international armed conflict in 2011 during the overthrow of Colonel Muammur Qaddafi, earlier conflicts with neighboring countries, and subsequent fighting between Libyan militias.


Libya has contamination from mines left by the desert battles of World War II and from conflicts with Egypt in 1977 and Chad in 1980−1987, which resulted in mines being laid on those borders. Its border with Tunisia is also affected. During Colonel Qaddafi’s four decades in power, mines were also emplaced around a number of sensitive locations, including military facilities and key infrastructure.[1]

Mines were used by both sides in the 2011 conflict leading to Colonel Qaddafi’s overthrow. The only reported instance of antivehicle mine use by rebels was in Ajdabiya, while pro-government elements laid mines in a number of locations including Brega, Khusha, Misrata, and the Nafusa Mountains. Antipersonnel mines were used by government forces in Ajdabiya, Khusha, Misrata, and al-Qawalish.[2] The most commonly used antipersonnel mine type was the low-metal content Brazilian T-AB1 mine, but evidence has also been found of Belgian NR 413 stake and bounding fragmentation mines (PRB NR 442).[3]

After fierce fighting between rival militias in Tripoli in July and August 2014, the UN warned that “land mines reportedly used in the airport area and unexploded ordnance are now a major hazard for civilians, especially children.”[4]

Other explosive remnants of war

Libya emerged from the conflict with extensive contamination by a wide array of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and abandoned ordnance (AXO), although the precise extent is unknown. Heavy contamination by UXO or AXO has been reported around towns that became battle grounds between pro- and anti-Qaddafi forces stretching from the western Nafusa mountains to Zintan (southwest of Tripoli); in and around Misrata, Zlitan, and Bani Walid to the east and south east of Tripoli; Sirte, Ras Lanuf, and Brega along the coast of the Gulf of Sidra and further east near the town of Ajdabiya; as well as Benghazi and Tobruk near the border with Egypt.[5] Fierce fighting between militias in and around Tripoli in 2014 has caused further UXO contamination.[6]

International organizations have reported encountering air-dropped bombs of up to 3,000kg, 107mm (Radima), 122mm (GRAD), and 130mm rockets; surface-to-air missiles; sea mines and torpedoes as well as rocket-propelled grenades; a variety of mortar, tank, and artillery shells; and small arms and anti-aircraft ammunition.[7]

NATO said its forces used 7,642 air-to-surface weapons during its seven-month air operation lasting until the end of October 2011[8] and in 2012 gave the UN detailed coordinates of 313 sites of possible UXO, including strikes by aircraft (303), helicopters (six), and naval warships (four), although it failed to provide details of the specific ordnance used or fuzing mechanisms and render-safe procedures.[9] Additional contamination resulted from air strikes on ammunition storage areas, scattering UXO over surrounding areas, and from sabotage by retreating pro-Qaddafi forces.[10]

Libya’s transitional authorities and demining organizations also faced a challenge securing thousands of tons of ordnance and weapons abandoned by the Qaddafi regime in 47 ammunition storage areas (ASAs), many of them severely damaged and an easy target for looters.[11] The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) concluded that the “vast” hazard presented by uncontrolled ammunition, weapons, and explosive remnants of war in Libya will require “concerted efforts for decades to come and significant financial support ranging in the hundreds of millions of US [United States] dollars.” The danger they pose was underscored by an explosion in three of 20 bunkers of an ASA at Brak Al-Chati in southern Libya in November 2013 which killed over 40 people and injured many others.[12]

Mine Action Program

Under the Qaddafi regime, the Ministry of Defense and the Civil Protection Unit, located within the Ministry of Interior and Justice, each had responsibilities for various aspects of mine action. The Ministry of Defense reportedly cleared areas serving either a military or civilian development purpose. The Civil Protection Unit is said to have carried out clearance in affected communities.[13]

Since the change of regime, mine action has felt the effects of wider political turmoil reflected in competing claims for a role in the sector by multiple institutions. The Libyan Mine Action Centre (LMAC), reportedly in existence as early as May 2011,[14] was mandated by the Minister of Defense in December 2011 to coordinate mine action, to support efforts in controlling ammunition storage areas, and to decommission weapons, while the Office of the Chief of the General Staff of the Army has jurisdiction over arms and ammunition and a role coordinating a range of operations.[15] A Ministry of Defense decree of December 2013 specified that LMAC would be responsible for supervising the work of international organizations in mine action, for survey of mined areas, and for information management.[16]

LMAC opened an office in Tripoli in 2012 and became the main focal point for humanitarian demining NGOs but with limited authority outside Tripoli as a result of the breakdown of centralized government that followed the change of regime.[17] A new director, Colonel Mohammad Turjoman, was appointed in December 2013 and took up his position early in 2014, subsequently renaming the center LibMAC. In April 2014, LibMAC closed temporarily as a result of internal staff disputes.[18]

Other institutions claiming a role in mine action include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ National Programme for Demining and Rehabilitation of Lands, which was set up in 2004 and revived by the ministry after the change of regime, and the Ministry of Interior’s National Safety Authority which supports explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and activities to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs).[19]

An UNMAS Joint Mine Action Coordination Team (JMACT) became operational in April 2011 and provided initial coordination for international NGOs, liaising closely with the Army Chief of General Staff,[20] resulting in tension with LMAC. In July 2012, UNMAS became integrated into the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) as the Arms and Ammunition Advisory Section. In August 2013, UNMAS assigned an operations officer and a quality assurance officer to LMAC to develop data management, tasking, and quality assurance capacity.[21] UNDP has been working with national authorities to draft a law to provide a framework for mine action.[22] It also has a capacity-building mandate overlapping with the UNMAS mandate under Security Council Resolution 2095, “creating a confusion for national counterparts.”[23]

Since 2011, clearance operations have been conducted by international NGOs, including DanChurchAid (DCA), Danish Demining Group, Handicap International (HI), Mines Advisory Group, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), and Santa Barbara Foundation, as well as by commercial operators Mechem and Ukroboronservices. National NGOs included Free Fields, Salama, and No Mines No War.[24] Due to lack of funding from January 2014, Norwegian People’s Aid closed its mine action program in Libya in late 2013.

Strategic planning

A draft National Strategic Plan states that “the strategic goal of the Government and its development partners over the 2011–2021 period is to reduce the humanitarian and socio-economic threats posed by landmines/unexploded ordnance to the point where a residual amount of contamination remains that poses no significant impact on the population or infrastructure, and where capacity remains to take account of the needs of future development.” The UN noted that the objective of the program is to develop and modernize national structures to implement a national mine action program.[25] As of April 2014, the plan awaited government approval.[26]

Land Release

Libya for the moment lacks an active program for clearing landmines. International and national organizations working with LibMAC are focused on EOD and small arms and ammunition storage. Some mine clearance has occurred in the course of technical survey or clearing battle area tasks, but most operators did not report details. In mine action there is no active program of accreditation, planning, survey, tasking, information management, or quality assurance.[27]

UNDP observed in 2013 that “humanitarian mine action stakeholders in Libya have been thwarted in their attempts to effect the sound implementation of mine action in country due to a void in established governance within the sector. The resultant lack of confidence and the delays in recognizing a properly mandated National Mine Action Authority with the necessary resources and capacity by the government has only compounded the issue.”[28]

HI worked for most of the year with 26 EOD staff in four teams in Sirte, clearing a total of 848,000m2 contaminated with cluster munitions and also clearing a military barracks in Sirte’s airport. When those tasks ended, HI downsized to 10 technicians, moving to Misrata towards the end of the year clearing an ammunition storage area.[29] DCA, with three five-man teams, also worked in the vicinity of Misrata clearing agricultural areas, and in Tripoli clearing tasks that included electricity substations, farmland, and inhabited areas that were the scene of clashes between militias in 2013.[30]

Battle area clearance in 2013

Name of operator

No. of battle areas released

Total size of battle area released by clearance (m2)

No. of UXO destroyed

No. of U-SUBs destroyed

No. of APMs destroyed

No. of AVMs destroyed















Note: APM = antipersonnel mine; AVM = antivehicle mine; U-SUB = unexploded submunition; UXO = unexploded ordnance other than unexploded submunitions

* One area completed, one ongoing

** Includes 848,000m2 of cluster munitions contaminated land

Support for Mine Action

DCA said it expected funding for clearance operations to end in 2014 with the expiry of two-year funding worth €1.498 million from the Dutch government and €1.4 million from the European Union.[31] HI similarly reported that two-year funding from the Dutch government would end in mid-2014, but believed funding it received from Germany would increase in 2014 over previous years’ support.[32]


[1] Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Landmines in Libya: Technical Briefing Note,” 19 July 2011.

[2] Ibid.; and email from Jenny Reeves, Weapons Contamination Coordinator, ICRC, Tripoli, 22 February 2012.

[3] Email from Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Officer, UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) Joint Mine Action Coordination Team (JMACT), Tripoli, 20 March 2012; HRW, “Landmines in Libya: Technical Briefing Note,” 19 July 2011; Colin King, “Landmines in Libya,” Journal of Mine Action, Issue 15.3, Fall 2011; and C. J. Chivers, “Land Mines Descend on Misrata’s Port, Endangering Libyan City’s Supply Route,” New York Times, 6 May 2011.

[5] HRW, “Government Use of Landmines Confirmed,” 31 March 2011; and HRW, “Landmines in Libya: Technical Briefing Note,”19 July 2011.

[7] See for example, JMACT, Weekly Report #3, 6 June 2011; “Libya fails to secure arms depots,” HRW, 9 September 2011; and email from Nina Seecharan, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), 5 March 2012.

[8] HRW, “Unacknowledged deaths,” 14 May 2012, p. 6. NATO reported that bombs of 500lb or less accounted for 82% of the ordnance used, 500 to 1,000lb bombs for over 7%, and 1,000 to 2,000lbs for about 10%.

[9] C. J. Chivers, “List of Unexploded Arms in Libya Is Seen as Limited,” The New York Times, 25 June 2012.

[10] JMACT, Weekly Report #3, 6 June 2011.

[11] Interview with Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director, HRW, Geneva, 4 January 2012; and Adrian King, “Conflict in Libya and the Future Risk to the Demining Community,” Journal of Mine Action, Issue 15.3, Fall 2011.

[12] “2013 Portfolio of Humanitarian Mine Action Arms and Ammunition Management Projects,” UNMAS, 8 July 2013, p. 5; “UN Experts Assist in Aftermath of Brak Al-Chati Ammunition Explosion,” UNSMIL, 5 December 2013.

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

[14] Andy Smith, “UNMAS in Libya – another critical failure,” Landmines and Humanitarian Action, updated July 2012.

[15] Email from Stefanie Carmichael, JMACT, 20 March 2012; interview with Max Dyck, Team Leader, JMACT, in Geneva, 28 March 2012; and email from Stephen Bryant, Programme Manager, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), Libya, 23 July 2012.

[16] Unofficial translation of Ministry of Defense Decree 409/2013, 3 December 2013.

[17] Telephone interview with Tripoli-based international mine action stakeholder requesting anonymity, 30 July 2012.

[18] Telephone interview with Tripoli-based mine action stakeholder, 30 May 2014.

[19] Email from Diek Engelbrecht, UNMAS Programme Manager, Libya, 20 July 2013.

[20] Email from Stefanie Carmichael, JMACT, 20 March 2012; and interview with Max Dyck, JMACT, in Geneva, 28 March 2012.

[21] Email from Diek Engelbrecht, UNMAS, Libya, 20 July 2013.

[22] Interview with Stephen Bryant, Chief Technical Advisor, UNDP (Libya), in Geneva, 2 April 2014.

[24] Emails from Jenny Reeves, Capacity Building Advisor, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), 11 April 2014; and from Diek Engelbrecht, UNMAS, Libya, 20 July 2013.

[26] Interview with Stephen Bryant, UNDP, in Geneva, 2 April 2014.

[27] Telephone interview with Tripoli-based mine action stakeholder, 30 May 2014.

[29] Email from Cat Smith, Head of Mission − Libya, HI, 15 June 2014.

[30] Email from Knut Furunes, Program Manager, DCA, 29 May 2014.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Email from Cat Smith, HI, 15 June 2014.