Chemical watchdog to seal Syria arsenal destruction plan

15th November 2013, Comments 0 comments

The world's chemical watchdog met Friday to agree a final roadmap for ridding Syria of its arsenal by mid-2014, despite the setback of Albania refusing for the weapons to be destroyed on its soil.

Friday is the deadline for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to agree "destruction milestones" for the more than 1,000 tonnes of dangerous chemicals in Syria, according to the terms of a US-Russian deal that headed off US military strikes on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Talks between the 41 members of the Executive Council at OPCW headquarters in The Hague were set to resume Friday evening after breaking off in the morning to allow delegates time to discuss the final draft.

Despite a US request of its staunch ally, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said he would not help destroy Syria's arsenal on its soil after a string of domestic protests against the move.

"It is impossible for Albania to take part in such an operation... as it has no capacity" to carry out such a task, Rama told reporters.

His statement was broadcast live on giant television screens on Tirana's main square, where thousands of demonstrators erupted in cries of joy.

The focus of Syria's chemical disarmament is increasingly on how the world can help, and it was not immediately clear which country could receive and destroy the lethal chemicals and precursors after Tirana's refusal.

Norway has also said no, citing time constraints and inexperience, while France and Belgium are also believed to have been asked for possible help by Washington.

Norway and Denmark have said they would provide ships to help take the chemicals out of Syria, with Denmark saying it would also provide a personal protection team for international inspectors.

Contentious points remain

Despite general agreement by the international community on helping Syria get rid of its chemical weapons, contentious points remain.

They include the supply of so-called "dual purpose" equipment to help with the transport of the chemicals, and where they will be taken to for destruction.

With the fractured Syrian opposition suffering a string of recent setbacks, including five rebel commanders killed since Thursday, reports said a long-delayed peace conference could be held in Geneva on December 12.

A team of UN-OPCW inspectors has been on the ground since October checking Syria's weapons and facilities, but security remained a concern.

Inspectors are working "in an active war zone, in an extreme security situation," Sigrid Kaag, the joint OPCW-UN mission coordinator, told Friday's meeting in The Hague.

Working under the "most challenging circumstances possible" the mission is "in contact with armed opposition groups" to ensure the necessary security arrangements are in place, the OPCW quoted Kaag as saying.

Destruction of declared chemical weapons production facilities was completed last month and all chemicals and precursors placed under seal, the OPCW said last month ahead of a November 1 deadline backed by a UN Security Council resolution.

There is consensus that the chemicals are best destroyed out of the country, which is wracked by a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The United Nations says the more than two-and-a-half year uprising against Assad's regime has also forced millions to flee their homes.

OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu wrote to Kaag on November 11 laying out a tentative plan for the destruction, a diplomatic source told AFP.

Under the plan, resources for packaging and handling the chemical materials would be sent to 12 chemical storage sites by December 13, the source said, after which the chemicals would be taken to Latakia, Syria's main port on the Mediterranean, and shipped out by February 5.

Syrians requested equipment

The Syrians have requested equipment to help the process, including armoured 4x4 vehicles and electronic counter measure (ECM) equipment.

Western nations refuse to supply them as they could be used against rebels. Syria's ally Russia could, however, supply such dual-purpose equipment.

The joint Russian-US Syrian chemical weapons disarmament plan was endorsed by the UN Security Council in September to head off military strikes in retaliation for the regime's alleged use of the weapons against its own people after a chemical attack against a Damascus suburb in August left hundreds dead.

© 2013 AFP

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