Press Conference on Problem of Disposal of Landmines in Libya

1 November 2011

Press Conference on Problem of Disposal of Landmines in Libya

1 November 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Problem of Disposal of Landmines in Libya


Only the nations of the world could decide the fate of thousands of landmines, weapons and ammunition stockpiles scattered across Libya, said Max Dyck, Programme Manager of the Joint Mine Action Coordination Team in Libya, at a Headquarters press conference today.  He was joined by Justin Brady, Acting Director, United Nations Mine Action Service.

“If people and nations of the world do not assist Libyans now in trying to get to grips with this problem”, Mr. Dyck said, “nobody can come back in six months and complain when it winds up in places where they don’t want it.  Now is the time to be dealing with it and now is the time when the world should be helping them.”

Barely a week after Libya declared independence, the security concerns surrounding the stores of munitions, man-portable air defence systems and rounds of ammunition and active landmines continued to pose a daunting challenge, he said.

“The obstacles that the Libyan people face in getting back to their regular lives are quite substantial,” Mr. Dyck said, pointing to “the humanitarian issues that have been raised by large-scale conflict inside of the towns, along the highways ranging across the width of the country, and the destruction of ammunition storage areas”.

In addition, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had made several thousand strikes, with more than 440 of those targeting ammunition storage areas.  Security problems also existed in terms of the movement of munitions around the country, and the security of those munitions and various weapons systems.

He said the National Transitional Council was aware of the problems and working closely with the team to get on top of it.

He noted that the mine action project was at a starting phase, and until recently Libya had been a country in conflict.  Its independence was declared only on 23 October, and its new Prime Minister, Mahmoud Jibril, was only announced yesterday.  The movement of going forward in bringing in a transitional government would be very good, he said.

He noted that the resolution, adopted by the Security Council yesterday, called upon the Libyan authorities to take all the necessary steps to ensure proper custody not only of the man-portable air defence systems, but the larger-scale ammunition issues, including arms control, non-proliferation.

He said the issues he raised today had already been highlighted by Ian Martin, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), last week.

He said the National Transitional Council was aware of the major part they had to play, throughout various towns and cities where people had begun to mobilize themselves to form clearance teams.  Members of the Transitional Council also recognized that they would have to fund a large portion of clearance efforts, but they were not in a position to do it yet, given the fact that the release of the frozen assets would take time.  It would also take time for the Transitional Council to get a system up and running to accept funds and to put those funds where they were needed.

Asked if Human Rights Watch reports that the rebels planted Belgian-made mines were true, Mr. Dyck said reports showed the laying of mines occurred in early March, and the Transitional Council was addressing the issue.  He also noted that the Transitional Council pledged in April to destroy all mines, including anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.  It also promised to destroy stockpiles and, in the coming weeks, the clearance team would be with the Transitional Council in destroying more than half a million stockpiled mines.

Asked about the position of the United Nations Mine Action Committee on mining issues in Egypt, specifically where landmines were planted during the Second World War and were “continuing to cripple the north-west coastal areas”, Mr. Brady, of the United Nations Mine Action Service, said that in 2007 the Egyptian Government had created a north-west coast programme of demining and development, with voluntary funds provided to start it up along with discretionary funds from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  UNDP had deployed an adviser.  The clearance was being conducted exclusively by the military, as per Egyptian law, and UNDP had done some victim assistance work.

Asked if Egyptian authorities were responsible for mine clearance, Mr. Brady said Egypt had said the nations responsible for laying mines should clear them.  In fact, most of the nations that could be implicated in that contamination were all donors in the past few years to the Egyptian programme.  “At the end of the day”, he added, “it is the responsibility of the jurisdiction and the authority there to address the issue of contamination in the country.”

Asked to clarify the tone of the response to the issue of the National Transitional Council using mines, and if there was any use, to his knowledge, of landmines in Sudan, Mr. Brady said when the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other partners learned of mine use in Libya, there was great concern.  The situation was brought to the Transitional Council’s attention, and the NTC had admitted it, saying the mines were laid by local commanders.  The NTC then immediately issued a proclamation, informing all of their units not only to not use mines but to destroy them, and had noted more than half a million mines for destruction.

If the Council had not taken that decision, the Mine Action Service would have had to look at its assistance to it, he said, since the service was working within a humanitarian response and had a responsibility to humanitarian partners to ensure proper coordination.  The NTC made a strong commitment to adhere to international norms and also to demonstrate that they were concerned about winning a war.

“When you decide that mine usage is okay”, he said, “you’re also deciding that it’s okay to spend years and millions of dollars to clean up afterwards and to support the victims that are created.”

On Sudan, he said there was no indication that the Sudanese authorities were using mines.  Those authorities were a State party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention), and next Friday, South Sudan would deposit its instrument of accession to that Convention.

He had received reports of non-State actors using mines and new mine usage.  He condemned the use of mines and tried to educate those who may use mines.

Asked about recent reports on Syria mining its border with Lebanon, and what the United Nations would do, Mr. Brady noted that Syria was not part of the Ottawa Convention and the reported activities were on Syrian sovereign territory.  It was not a judicious decision and did not contribute to the safety and security of any country.  He referred the question to the Permanent Mission of Syria to discuss the issue in more detail.

Mr. Brady mentioned that, at a meeting held at the United Nations this week, the participants included Mr. Dyck and programme managers and advisers from South Sudan, Khartoum, Afghanistan, Chad, Occupied Palestinian Territory, United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in Mogadishu and the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), the last of which took into account traditional mine clearance but also ammunition management and securing unsafe stockpiles.

He said officials would also soon be deploying to the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) in Sudan.  At the very start of that mission, the peacekeeping operation experienced an accident that killed four and injured seven peacekeepers due to a landmine; it was a very great concern that the peacekeepers should be able to conduct their work safely and effectively.

Support to the Colombia authorities would include a civilian demining project slated to begin in the coming months, he said.

Support was also being given to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

Asked if the incident with UNISFA occurred because the peacekeepers would not be evacuated and had there been any improvements since then, Mr. Brady said the mine action service was running its first deployment there, in part to assess what the requirements were for the mission.  As far as the status-of-mission agreement, he referred the journalist to the office of military affairs.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.