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The impact of war is still visible in Misrata, where the "Martyrs' Museum" provides a vivid reminder of the suffering Libya’s third largest city endured in 2011.
The north-western city of Misrata was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the Libyan revolution, besieged by forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi during three months of bombardment.
When Gaddafi’s forces fled, they left many of their weapons, ammunition and equipment behind. A group of young volunteers started gathering these munitions along the popular Tripoli Street, in order to display the arsenal to passers-by as a reminder of what the city endured. This is how the Martyrs' Museum, also known as the Misrata War Museum, was born.
Unbeknown to its 1,500 visitors a week – most of whom are civilians with no experience in handling weapons, including many children who climb on the tanks and cannons – some of the ammunition was still 'live' and contained explosives. No professional had ever investigated the items in the exhibition to determine if they were safe for display.
Something as seemingly innocuous as the build-up of heat could have caused an accidental explosion with fatal consequences.
Head of the museum, Tahir Bashir, had also been unaware of the dangers, until he met a MAG Libya Community Liaison team and, on hearing about the potential risk, asked for help. Soon after, MAG technical clearance staff started removing the dangerous objects: a total of 363 were cleared over a two-day period in late August, including a 400kg bomb, an SA3 missile and six S24 rockets. Items that no longer pose a threat continue to be on display.
"After removing all these dangerous items, I feel much safer," Tahir says. "I'm reassured that these items will no longer threaten people's life. Now the visitors are no longer in danger. I was not expecting this immediate response and high efficiency, I would like to thank MAG for their efforts to provide us a safer life."
The Community Liaison teams also gave Tahir and two other museum managers ‘risk education’ materials to provide to those bringing munitions for display in the future.
MAG’s CL teams have been giving risk education to adults and children in the country over the last two years – potentially lifesaving sessions that help minimise the risk for people under threat from discarded or poorly-stored ammunition, landmines and unexploded ordnance.
MAG deploys international technical experts to train, supervise and work alongside teams made up entirely of Libyan staff: "Our main focus is to conduct battle area clearance¹ and conduct clearance of any other dangerous areas around Misrata reported by local people," says Paul Brown, MAG Libya Technical Field Manager.
"MAG began work in Libya two months after the revolution started, in April 2011, to provide emergency response. In July of the same year, we started operations in Misrata, and have been working with the local authorities to clear contaminated areas."
"To date, MAG has removed over 495,000 explosive remnants of war across the country, of which more than 120,000 have been found in the ammunition supply area of Misrata."
Note: ¹ Battle area clearance is the systematic and controlled clearance of hazardous areas where the hazards are known not to include mines. [Source: A Guide to International Mine Action Standards, Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, www.gichd.org].
For more infomation about MAG's operations in Libya and worldwide, please go to www.maginternational.org.
• Thanks to all the public, institutional and government donors to MAG's operations in Libya, including: European Commission; Good Gifts; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands; Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Sterling International; Swiss Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs; UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office; US State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement; The Vitol Foundation. Without this support, MAG's lifesaving work in the country could not be carried out.