Libyan government forces have placed at least three minefields containing antipersonnel and antivehicle landmines outside the village of al-Qawalish in the western Nafusa Mountains, Human Rights Watch said today.
“The government’s blatant disregard for the safety of its civilians is shameful,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “Landmines are a weapon that will claim civilian limbs and lives for years to come.”
Two of the minefields were laid near each other on a pair of dirt roads leading to a boy scout building known as al-Malayab, west of al-Qawalish (coordinates N 31˚ 58′ 50.79″ E 12˚ 40′ 32.23″ and N 31˚ 58′ 50.74″ E 12˚ 41′ 26.26″). The third minefield was laid along the main asphalt road to al-Qawalish just west of al-Malayab (coordinates N 31˚ 59′ 2.26″ E 12˚ 40′ 29.58″).
Government forces had apparently been positioned at the boy scout building outside al-Qawalish until rebels seized the area and the village in the early afternoon of July 6, 2011.
All three minefields are in areas with civilian traffic. Anti-government fighters have put up signs and markers to keep people from entering the areas.
Human Rights Watch observed anti-government fighters removing Brazilian-made T-AB-1 antipersonnel mines and Chinese-made Type-72SP antivehicle mines from the two dirt road sites on July 6. The antipersonnel mines had been placed atop the larger antivehicle mines.
By the end of July 7, deminers had cleared approximately 240 T-AB-1 antipersonnel mines and 46 Type-72SP antivehicle mines from the two sites, but more mines remained to be cleared.
Three rebel vehicles had struck mines on the dirt roads earlier on July 6, destroying the vehicles and wounding three people, two of whom were hospitalized.
The first vehicle that struck a mine, inspected by Human Rights Watch, had an artillery piece mounted on the back and carried ammunition. The second vehicle that came to provide assistance after the first was destroyed did not appear to carry weapons or ammunition. A deminer who spent the day at the dirt road sites told Human Rights Watch that a third vehicle hit a mine later on July 6.
Deminers had not begun work on the third site near the main road. When Human Rights Watch visited the site on July 7, a damaged vehicle that had apparently struck a mine lay by the road.
One T-AB-1 antipersonnel mine was lying exposed on the ground nearby.
Government forces have placed the T-AB-1 antipersonnel mines in at least one other location in the Nafusa Mountains. In mid-June Human Rights Watch documented the presence of more than 150 of the mines near the town of Zintan. The T-AB-1 antipersonnel mine has a low metal content and is therefore difficult to detect once placed.
On June 23 Brazil’s minister of external relations, Chancellor Antonio Patriota, condemned the use of antipersonnel mines “wherever they are used.” Brazil has opened an investigation into the transfer of the landmines to Libya. Brazil is a state party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and has not manufactured or exported antipersonnel landmines since 1989.
Human Rights Watch has also documented the government’s use of the Type-72SP antivehicle mines on the eastern outskirts of Ajdabiya in late March. In total, Human Rights Watch has confirmed government use of five types of landmines in seven separate locations in Libya.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the government to halt use of these weapons.
Libya is one of 37 nations that have not joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. A total of 156 nations are parties to the treaty, and another two have signed but not yet ratified.
The Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively bans the use, production, and transfer of all antipersonnel mines, requires destruction of stockpiles within four years and clearance of mined areas within 10 years, and calls for assistance to landmine victims.
Anti-government forces in the Nafusa Mountains should destroy all the mines they have removed or obtained from abandoned government depots, Human Rights Watch said. The de facto opposition authority in Libya, the National Transitional Council, formally pledged in April not to use antipersonnel and antivehicle landmines, and to destroy all landmines in its possession.