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Libya: explosive devices continue to kill and maim civilians

04-11-2011 Operational Update

In Sirte and Bani Walid, explosive remnants of war pose a serious threat to civilians, who are being warned of the dangers. The ICRC's other immediate priorities are to ensure that mortal remains are identified and to obtain access to recently arrested people.

Although fighting has ceased in most places, civilians continue to be injured or killed regularly by explosive devices. In Bani Walid, and particularly in Sirte, where the highest concentration of ordnance is to be found and the humanitarian impact is the most serious, the ICRC is launching urgent campaigns to educate people about the risks.

"There have already been several confirmed casualties in Sirte, including an eight-year-old girl who lost her arm while playing with an explosive device," said Guy Marot, an ICRC expert. "Our immediate goal is to ensure that further deaths and injuries among civilians are kept to an absolute minimum." A high level of weapon contamination in farmlands and elsewhere in the area of Zlitan, west of Misrata, has caused approximately 30 casualties so far.

ICRC staff are currently at work in Sirte putting up billboards, distributing leaflets and posters explaining the hazards of explosive ordnance, and mobilizing Libyan Red Crescent volunteers to spread the message to the population. Starting next week, the ICRC will clear unexploded munitions in Sirte and Bani Walid, focusing on the contaminated areas that pose the greatest threat to civilians, especially some of the least destroyed neighbourhoods where people are attempting to return to their homes.

Since March, the ICRC has removed the physical threat posed by almost 1,400 warheads, munitions, grenades and mortar shells in Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata, Brega, Ras Lanuf and the Nefusa mountains. It has also raised awareness in many communities of the danger of handling explosive items, and trained over 100 Libyan Red Crescent volunteers from seven local branches to take part in the effort to educate the public.

Removing the threat of explosives in heavily contaminated areas will take considerable time and resources. It will also require coordination among numerous partners, such as the Libyan Red Crescent and other humanitarian organizations involved in mine action.

Dead bodies in Sirte

Over 400 dead bodies have so far been retrieved in Sirte by doctors from Ibn Sina Hospital, Libyan Red Crescent volunteers, staff from the National Commission for the Missing and other civilian volunteers, who are burying unidentified bodies in specified, temporary locations.

The ICRC provides the people directly involved in handling dead bodies with advice in order to facilitate the process of having the deceased identified by members of their families. "All human remains should be clearly labelled, and personal belongings recorded and stored separately," said Abdulbadih El Dada, an ICRC delegate.

Obtaining access and conducting visits to detainees are priorities

Many people are still being arrested, others are being released. The ICRC's contacts with the transitional authorities and military councils are continuing, with the aim of obtaining access to all people newly detained so as to be able to check on the treatment they are receiving and on the conditions in which they are being held.

In the past two weeks, the ICRC located and visited some of those captured following the recent fighting in Sirte and Bani Walid, including in detention wards of hospitals. The organization's delegates visited more than 2,500 people in nine places of detention in and around Misrata and Zlitan, and delivered hygiene items and 1,500 blankets to four of these detention facilities. In addition, the ICRC registered 400 foreign nationals who were among the 1,300 people held in a prison in Tripoli and gave them the opportunity to call their loved ones.

Since late August, the ICRC has visited over 6,000 detainees in Tripoli, Misrata and other cities nearby.

For further information, please contact:
Soaade Messoudi, ICRC Tripoli, tel: +218 913 066 198
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Benghazi, tel: +870 772 390 124 (ext. 250) or +218 9 923 304 560
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 20 11 or +41 79 536 92 50


Photos

Sirte, Libya. The city in ruins. 

Sirte, Libya. The city in ruins.
© ICRC / G. Marot

Zintan, Libya. ICRC staff explain the risk from unexploded munitions to a group of children. 

Zintan, Libya. ICRC staff explain the risk from unexploded munitions to a group of children.
© ICRC / G. Marot

Sirte, Libya. An ICRC assessment team advances through Sirte, in ruins following weeks of heavy fighting. 

Sirte, Libya. An ICRC assessment team advances through Sirte, in ruins following weeks of heavy fighting. The city is empty and very few civilians have so far returned to check on their destroyed homes.
© ICRC / Y. El Shalwi

Libyan Red Crescent Society clinic, Sirte, Libya. ICRC and volunteers from the Sirte and Ajdabiya branches of the LRCS discuss relief needs. 

Libyan Red Crescent Society clinic, Sirte, Libya. ICRC and volunteers from the Sirte and Ajdabiya branches of the LRCS discuss relief needs.
© ICRC / Y. El Shalwi