July 26, 2011 / 8:13 PM / 8 years ago

Libya's Misrata struggles to clean up unexploded ordnance

MISRATA, Libya, July 26 (Reuters) - Street fighting in Libya’s third city of Misrata ended months ago with rebel victory, but those battles are still claiming fresh victims.

While young fighters commute out to the front line to battle pro-Gaddafi forces - now many km (miles) out of town - unexploded ordnance still littering the streets is a risk to city residents, especially the young.

“The biggest problem here is cluster bombs. These cluster bombs are small in size and are brightly coloured and children always see things that are easy to spot,” said Ali al-Hish of the city’s ordnance disposal committee.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s government denies accusations by rights groups that it has used the bombs, which throw explosive fragments over a wide area and are banned by most countries, in Misrata.

Nearly every street corner has its own scars from the fierce springtime battle for the city, and coming across unexploded ordnance is an everyday reality.

Fifteen-year-old Mohammed Diab recollects an encounter with a mortar shell in April that changed his life.

“We heard a mortar hit the wall out in the street, then I took it out with my hand and brought it into our garden where it exploded in my hand,” he said quietly.

“I didn’t imagine it would explode as it had already exploded in the wall.”

It blew off all four fingers and half the palm of his left hand, but he was discharged from hospital after only five days to make room for wounded fighters from the front.

Doctors told him he might receive a false hand — once the conflict in Libya ends and Misrata returns to normality.

EXPERTISE NEEDED

Hish has a vast range of munitions in a long container and in the courtyard of his clean-up committee’s headquarters — a building whose own walls are covered in holes caused by shrapnel from tank shells.

“We have co-ordination and co-operation with the Misrata branch of the Red Crescent,” he said.

“We have intensified our distribution of leaflets and the brothers in the Red Crescent have been active in giving awareness lectures as well as visits to schools and social housing areas.”

Posters illustrating the most common types of ordnance to be found in the Mediterranean port are displayed outside the committee building so locals can identify what type of munitions they have found.

Hish estimates the number of live weapons found by his five teams of volunteers at a few thousand. Most of it is destroyed on site but some is retrieved.

He says Misrata needs outside expertise to clear what is left and that some of his volunteers have no experience.

The disposal committee says four fifths of shells and bombs left behind by the earlier street fighting have been cleared.

Fierce fighting raged for months as Gaddafi sought to crush an uprising in the city against his four-decade rule.

It lasted throughout the spring until rebels, aided by NATO, managed to push pro-Gaddafi forces out of the city.

However, the effort to clear the city of dangerous ordnance will not end soon. Mortar shells and Grad rockets continue to pound the city on a near daily basis and those that do not fully detonate on impact lie dormant, awaiting their next victim.

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