Libya has destroyed its last known large stockpile of chemical weapons from the era of slain leader Muammar Gaddafi, including bombs and artillery shells filled with mustard gas, officials said on Tuesday.
“Libya is totally empty of any presence of chemical weapons ... which could pose a threat to the safety of people, the environment, or neighbouring regions,” Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdelaziz said in remarks carried by Libya’s state news agency.
The eradication of the weapons marks an important development for Libya, as Syria struggles to destroy its own chemical weapons hoard amid a civil war.
Western countries had been concerned that the weapons might fall into the hands of Islamist militants and regional militias as the North African state grapples with widespread disorder more than two years after the uprising that ousted Gaddafi.
Militia groups and armed tribesmen control parts of the vast OPEC-member country awash with arms, where the Tripoli government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has struggled to enforce its authority beyond the capital, Tripoli.
Abdelaziz told reporters that Canadian, German and American experts had helped destroy the chemical weapons stockpile at a facility some 370 miles (600 kilometres) south of the capital.
“The destruction in the region of al-Rawagha was conducted with utmost precision,” he said.
Libyan officials at the news conference said there were no other known batches of chemical weapons left. Andrew Weber, the US assistant defence secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defence programmes, said that among the Libyan chemical stocks destroyed were 507 shells filled with mustard gas.
Libya began dismantling its poison gas programme after signing the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2004 but the operation ground to a halt in 2011 when the NATO-backed uprising against Gaddafi broke out.
Gaddafi’s government originally declared 25 metric tonnes of bulk mustard agent and 1,400 metric tons of precursor chemicals used to make poison gas munitions. It also declared more than 3,500 unfilled aerial bombs designed for use with chemical warfare agents such as sulphur mustard, and three chemical weapons production facilities.
At the time, Gaddafi was trying to shed his image as an international outcast and restore relations with Western governments following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was justified as a move to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
The director of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which assists countries in verifiably destroying their chemical weapons, said the task in Libya had been a “major undertaking”.
The work was done in “arduous, technically challenging circumstances,” OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement, crediting cooperation between Libya and his own organisation, as well as help from Germany and the US.
Preparations will now be made to destroy Libya’s remaining precursor chemicals by the end of 2016.
Meanwhile in Syria, the disarmament operation agreed to in December by Damascus – under threat of Western military action – is running seriously behind schedule.
So far just two small shipments have left the Syrian port of Latakia, accounting for less than four percent of the country's declared arsenal of most dangerous chemicals and none of the precursors.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday that his regime could face consequences for failing to live up to international agreements on removing chemical weapons.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-05