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Destruction of Libyan Chemical-Loaded Arms Remains on Hold

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

A picture of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi is seen in the ashes during fighting in Libya in 2011. Two years after the uprising that led to the overthrow of the Libyan government, the country still has not begun eliminating thousands of pounds of mustard blister agent loaded in artillery rounds during the now-deceased leader’s regime (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky). A picture of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi is seen in the ashes during fighting in Libya in 2011. Two years after the uprising that led to the overthrow of the Libyan government, the country still has not begun eliminating thousands of pounds of mustard blister agent loaded in artillery rounds during the now-deceased leader’s regime (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky).

WASHINGTON -- Libya has not yet begun eliminating thousands of pounds of mustard blister agent loaded in artillery rounds under ousted dictator Muammar Qadhafi, an international oversight organization told Global Security Newswire. Tripoli, though, on Wednesday insisted that preparations to start destroying the material "have hit the home stretch."

The 1.6 metric tons of remaining agent comprises little more than 15 percent of the "Schedule 1" chemical warfare material that Libya has declared to date. Remaining known materials -- including a quantity never declared by Qadhafi prior to his 2011 overthrow -- now await destruction at the Ruwagha depot in southeastern Libya.

The nation destroyed more than three times that amount of mustard agent over two weeks this spring. However, because Qadhafi placed the last of the deadly substance in munitions for potential use in combat, destroying them would require sealable detonation chambers and other equipment not required previously, a spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told GSN last week.

Technicians also would need the new technology to incinerate 2.5 metric tons of additional mustard agent that has congealed inside bombs and other delivery systems, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan noted in an e-mailed response to questions.

Luhan declined to state when destruction of the remaining material would begin. Tripoli last year said it aimed before 2014 to fully destroy its most-potent chemical-warfare stocks, and by 2016 to finish eliminating 846 metric tons of additional chemical-arms ingredients.

Speaking on Wednesday, Libya's top diplomat said the United States would supply "state-of-the-art technologies" for the disposal effort, as well as pay four-fifths of the destruction cost.

"We are sure that the war chemicals are safely controlled, so any hazardous substance leaks are ruled out," Foreign Minister Muhammad Abdul Aziz told the Voice of Russia in an interview.

Libyan and OPCW officials have offered little public comment on specific measures in place to protect chemical arms and related materials at the Ruwagha site. Libya's transitional government reportedly bolstered security at the site ahead of the mustard destruction in late April and early May.

In March, a regional news report alleged that 20 Libyan paramilitary soldiers had been injured from mustard-gas exposure while supporting OPCW operations. The chemical-weapons organization could not be reached to comment on the claim.

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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