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Libya Moves to Resume Chemical Weapons Disposal

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

Fighters loyal to former Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi pray in February at a prison in Gherian. Libya is advancing efforts to complete the destruction of chemical warfare materials left by Qadhafi’s toppled government, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons indicated on Tuesday (AP Photo/Manu Brabo). Fighters loyal to former Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi pray in February at a prison in Gherian. Libya is advancing efforts to complete the destruction of chemical warfare materials left by Qadhafi’s toppled government, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons indicated on Tuesday (AP Photo/Manu Brabo).

WASHINGTON -- Libya is pressing ahead with preparations to finish off a stockpile of chemical warfare materials left behind by the deposed Muammar Qadhafi regime, a spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Tuesday (see GSN, April 13).

The Hague, Netherlands-based agency that monitors compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention also announced that Canada has provided slightly more than $6 million to support chemical weapons disposal by the new government in Tripoli.

The Qadhafi government declared holding roughly 25 metric tons of sulfur mustard agent and close to 1,400 metric tons of precursor materials upon joining the convention in 2004. The nation moved quickly to destroy about 3,500 empty aerial munitions that could have been used to deliver offensive chemicals.

Disposal of the blister agent began in October 2010 and was suspended due to technical difficulties at a mobile neutralization facility in February 2011, shortly before the beginning of the uprising that ultimately led to Qadhafi's death last October. About 45 percent of the declared mustard stockpile remained, along with roughly 60 percent of precursor materials.

A limited amount of undeclared mustard agent was identified last year in the wake of Qadhafi's fall. "Libya has now declared a total of about 13 metric tons of sulfur mustard agent," OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told Global Security Newswire.

That could suggest that the November declaration from Tripoli covers about 1.5 metric tons of mustard agent never acknowledged by the Qadhafi government alongside the 11.5 tons of previously known material that remained when disposal operations were suspended early last year.

The organization has also determined that a number of Libyan munitions filled with mustard agent should be declared as chemical armaments and eliminated (see GSN, Jan. 20).

All of the materials are now awaiting destruction at the Ruwagha depot in southeastern Libya. Elimination of the mustard agent is expected to take no more than six months after work resumes, according to an OPCW press release. It was not immediately known when operations would begin again.

"The main unit of the mobile destruction [plant] has been repaired by Libyan authorities with Italian assistance. But before destruction operations can be resumed and OPCW inspectors deployed on-site, the new government in Tripoli must make needed infrastructure and security arrangements at Ruwagha," Luhan stated by e-mail. "The OPCW will continue working closely with the authorities to enable operations to resume as soon as possible."

Precursor materials would be destroyed following the mustard agent and munitions, according to the spokesman.  Five to six OPCW inspectors would oversee the disposal project at all times.

After receiving multiple extensions, Libya's final deadline for eliminating the banned materials under the convention is next Monday. Having acknowledged that it cannot meet that schedule, Tripoli was required by April 29 to submit a detailed plan for completing demilitarization operations.

Corresponding documents are also required from Russia and the United States, which are years away from completely eradicating their own stocks of chemical warfare agents (see GSN, April 18).

The Libyan report, which offers specific dates for completion of demilitarization activities, has been delivered to OPCW headquarters and is being reviewed, Luhan said. Further details were not immediately available about the paper, which would be delivered to the 41-nation OPCW Executive Council at a meeting next week.

The $6 million in Canadian support is being directed to the organization. "OPCW will use the funds for three main activities: 1) Project management and training of personnel to operate the destruction facility, 2) purchase of equipment and related materials for destroying sulfur mustard agent and chemical weapons munitions stored at the Ruwagha depot, and 3) provision of support services for OPCW on-site inspectors at Ruwagha," according to the press release.

The contribution is part of security assistance for the new Libyan government announced last fall by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (see GSN, Oct. 12, 2011). It is the largest donation ever delivered to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons by a member state.

"This historic donation reflects the spirit of solidarity and mutual aid that has exemplified the OPCW from its beginning, and which is vital to achieve our goal of ridding the world of all chemical weapons,” OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü said in provided comments. “I commend the government of Canada for its generous support, and we look forward to working closely with Libya to eliminate the last of its chemical weapons as soon as possible."

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that munitions discovered in Libya were empty.

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.

NTI Analysis

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    This CNS issue brief examines the lessons learned from dismantling Libya and Iraq's chemical weapons programs and what these two cases presage for disarmament in Syria. In particular, this article explores the challenges relating to ensuring material and physical security for both inspectors and the chemical weapons stockpile itself; verifying the accuracy and completeness of disclosed inventories; and developing effective monitoring and verification regimes for the long-term. The conclusion examines recommendations stemming from this analysis.

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