Middle East

Syria has shipped less than 5% of chemical arms: sources

Soldiers from the Norwegian Naval Special Warfare Group trains with a RHIB, in Limassol, in this handout photo from January 6, 2014 released to Reuters on January 26, 2014 by the Norwegian Armed Forces. (REUTERS/Lars Magne Hovtun/Norwegian Armed Forces)

THE HAGUE: Less than five percent of the most dangerous chemicals in Syria's arsenal have left the country and Damascus will be pressured to move faster, sources close to the world's chemical watchdog said Wednesday.

Just two shipments of around 16 metric tonnes each of so-called Category 1 chemicals have left Syria's port of Lattakia this month as part of an internationally-backed disarmament plan supervised by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

That means less than five percent of the around 700 tonnes of chemicals that were supposed to have left Syria by December 31 last year have done so, putting the ambitious disarmament project weeks behind schedule.

The sources said an OPCW Executive Council meeting in The Hague on Thursday would try to put pressure on the Syrians and "remind them of their obligations", ahead of a June 30 deadline for the destruction of all of Syria's dangerous chemicals.

The UN Security Council last year backed a US-Russian deal to eliminate Syria's vast chemical arsenal as a way to avert US strikes threatened after a massive chemical attack near Damascus that Washington blamed on the regime.

Under the agreement, Syria's entire chemical arsenal is to be eliminated by June 30.

Syria has declared around 700 tonnes of most-dangerous chemicals, 500 tonnes of less-dangerous precursor chemicals and around 122 tonnes of isopropanol in its arsenal.

Almost all the chemicals and precursors, except for isopropanol which is to be destroyed within the war-torn country, are supposed to be removed by February 5. 

"It's almost certain that deadline will not be met," a source close to the matter told AFP.

The around 120 tonnes of isopropanol must be destroyed by March 1.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been battling rebels for nearly three years, following his government's brutal crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising that began in March 2011.

Syria has claimed that operations to move the chemicals to the port of Lattakia have been slowed by the security situation in the war-torn country and by the weather. 

The sources noted that the weather in Syria has been much better recently and they "can no longer use that argument."

OPCW spokesman Christian Chartier declined to comment on how the disarmament was progressing.

According to a briefing from OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu for Thursday's meeting, Syria now has almost all the equipment it needs to transport the chemicals to Lattakia.

Uzumcu earlier this month spoke to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and "they both agreed that it was necessary for the removal process to pick up pace," said the document, seen by AFP.

Syria has told the OPCW that it is "making intensive efforts to prepare for, and accelerate, the transportation of chemicals, and that it is currently working on a tentative schedule for completing the transportation of chemicals."

Danish and Norwegian warships are to continue removing the chemicals from Syria. They will be taken to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro and transferred to a specially-equipped US naval vessel, the MV Cape Ray, aboard which the lethal chemical agents will be neutralised.





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