TRIPOLI: Mines have killed or wounded more than 100 people, including many civilians, south of Libya’s capital following deadly combat between rival forces, the UN said on Sunday.

“Mines and improvised explosive devices (planted) in or near homes have caused more than 100 victims,” including civilians and mine disposal experts, UNSMIL, the UN mission in Libya, said in a statement. It did not give a breakdown of killed or wounded.

The toll was for casualties since early June, it said following a meeting in Rome between interim UN envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams and Government of National Accord head Fayez al-Sarraj.

Earlier this month, the Tripoli-based GNA recognised by the UN regained full control of the capital and its suburbs after more thana year of fighting off an offensive by eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar’s forces have been accused by the GNA, the UN and Human Rights Watch (HRW) of laying mines in residential southern suburbs of the capital.

HRW said earlier this month that antipersonnel mines discovered in May were “of Soviet and Russian origin”.

At the Rome meeting, Williams also expressed concern over reports claiming that “mercenaries of various nationalities” had been deployed in Libyan oil installations.

On Friday, the country’s National Oil Corporation said Russian and other foreign mercenaries had entered the key Al-Sharara oil field the previous day.

Al-Sharara is under the control of forces loyal to Haftar, who is backed by Russia. Williams said the presence of mercenaries there “threatens” to transform Libya’s so-called oil crescent region into a “battlefield”.

Plunged into chaos by the 2011 Nato-backed uprising that toppled and killed its longtime leader Moamer Qadhafi, oil-rich Libya has two rival administrations.

Haftar’s forces, which are also backed by Egypt and the UAE, launched an assault in April 2019 to wrest control of the capital Tripoli from the GNA.

Haftar’s fighters withdrew from the southern outskirts of Tripoli and the entire west of the country earlier this month after a string of battlefield defeats to the Turkish-backed GNA.

On Saturday, Sarraj also held talks in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during which he stressed that a solution to the Libyan conflict cannot be military, the GNA said.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2020