Deadly landmines continue to threaten civilians in Tripoli

Despite a return to relative calm in Libya, hundreds of deadly landmines and unexploded ordnance from years of conflict still pose a significant danger to civilians, particularly children.

Saleh Farhat described his neighborhood on the southern outskirts of Tripoli as a “disaster zone” after his son Mohamed was severely injured by an explosion. The United Nations reports that since 2019, over 400 people, including 26 children, have been killed or injured by leftover explosive devices.

Mohamed, 10, was playing with friends when they picked up what they thought was scrap metal. Seconds later, it exploded, severely wounding Mohamed and his friend Hamam Saqer, 12. “We didn’t know it was a weapon,” said Hamam, vowing never to return to that garden.

Libya has struggled to recover from years of war and instability following the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The country remains divided between a UN-recognized government in Tripoli led by Abdulhamid Dbeibah and a rival administration in the east backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar. The battle for Tripoli from April 2019 to June 2020 saw Haftar’s forces laying mines in homes before retreating.

A 2023 US State Department report revealed that the Russia-backed Wagner Group, supporting Haftar’s forces, placed landmines and boobytraps around Tripoli. The full extent of landmine contamination remains unknown due to limited government control.

Farhat’s neighborhood, a hotspot of conflict since 2011, remains dangerous. “The authorities are not doing enough to eliminate mines,” he said, noting frequent accidents resulting in amputations.

The UN mission in Libya reports that 36 percent of mined areas have been cleared, but 436 million square meters remain dangerous. An official from the defense ministry estimated that with stability and a united government, it would take five to ten years to clear the remaining ordnance.

In early May, authorities announced a national anti-mine strategy with help from the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. Local official Seddik al-Abassi called for specialized equipment to sweep residential areas, emphasizing the urgency as people’s lives are at risk.

For Farhat’s son Mohamed, injured by shrapnel, the recovery will be long, highlighting the ongoing threat and need for immediate action against the hidden dangers in Tripoli.

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