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LIBYA: Securing ammunition to keep communities safe

Unsecured weapons near Zintan, Libya

The Gaddafi government stored weapons and ammunition in massive areas near towns. During the 2011 revolution, more than 400 bunkers, each the size of a tennis court, were bombed and destroyed. Weapons and ammunition not destroyed in the bombings were, as pictured here, left unsecured. [Photos: MAG Libya]

The 2011 revolution has given the people of Libya much longed for freedoms, but it has also led to the increased availability of weapons and ammunition.

>> Infographic: Securing ammunition in Libya

The problem comes from the Gaddafi government’s storage of weapons and ammunition in massive areas near towns. During the revolution, more than 400 of these bunkers, each the size of a tennis court, were bombed and destroyed.

Weapons and ammunition not destroyed in the bombings were left unsecured, as pictured above. The result is easy access for civilians and militias to the remaining weapons and ammunition, and, consequently, an increased risk of armed violence. There is also a greater likelihood of accidents caused by ammunition taken by civilians.

But the new government lacks sufficient secure storage for the weapons and ammunition that are now in communities. The cost of rebuilding each bunker to its previous specifications is estimated by the United Nations Arms and Ammunition Advisory Service as US$1million to US$1.5m. And projects of this size require time and planning, which doesn’t address the immediate threat of deaths and injuries.

MAG’s solution is to install secure temporary storage units, to help bring weapons and ammunition back under government control. The first set of units, situated in a secured location near the town of Zintan and can hold 80 tonnes of explosives.

It is made up of four shipping containers covered by 600m3 of sand and currently houses 23,981 pieces of serviceable ammunition – some of which was being stored in a disused bakery in the town – all inventoried and securely locked.

A second temporary facility is being constructed by MAG, to store more ammunition, but there is the need for more, as General Ali Tumi, commander of the Zintan ammunition storage area, points out: “It is good [that another facility is being built], but it would be better if there were many, because the amount of [unsecured] ammunition is very big.

“I hope to see a situation where no unauthorised people can reach the ammunition, where it is all stored in good condition and under government control. I hope people will support MAG with this big and important project.”

Ammunition in homes and other community locations poses safety threats to civilians, he says: “It might cause a disaster. People don’t know how to store ammunition. It is a worry to me.”

Twenty-two year-old Mohammed Salem Abdilnabil from Zintan fought against the Gaddafi government during the revolution, sustaining injuries in an arm and leg. He saw weapons and ammunition in the hands of those who had no training: “It was a concern to see this. It still is a concern that people have it in their homes: there are children about who touch it. Ammunition and weapons should be kept properly, and controlled by the military.”

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Page published: 13 June 2013

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MAG's ammunition storage units near Zintan, Libya
The first set of storage units, outside the town of Zintan.
MAG's ammunition storage units near Zintan, Libya
All items inside the units are secure.
MAG's ammunition storage units near Zintan, Libya
The containers under construction.

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Thanks to all the public, institutional and government donors to MAG's operations in Libya, including:
European Commission
• Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Kirby Laing Foundation
Swiss Government

Without this support, MAG's lifesaving work in the country could not be carried out.

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MAG (Mines Advisory Group) saves and improves lives by reducing the devastating effects armed violence and remnants of conflict have on people around the world.
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