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Libya Sets Schedule for Eliminating Chemical Weapons

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director General Ahmet Üzümcü, shown last year, visited Tripoli earlier this week for talks with top Libyan officials. The nation intends to restart destruction of its remaining chemical weapons next year and to complete the process in 2016, an OPCW spokesman said on Thursday (AP Photo/Peter Dejong). Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director General Ahmet Üzümcü, shown last year, visited Tripoli earlier this week for talks with top Libyan officials. The nation intends to restart destruction of its remaining chemical weapons next year and to complete the process in 2016, an OPCW spokesman said on Thursday (AP Photo/Peter Dejong).

WASHINGTON -- Libya expects to resume chemical weapons disposal next year and to finish off its remaining stockpile of mustard agent and precursor materials by 2016, a spokesman for a key international arms control organization said on Thursday (see GSN, April 24).

The 41-state Executive Council to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons approved Tripoli's detailed demilitarization plan earlier this month, according to OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan. The document was demanded last year when it became clear Libya would not meet the April 29, 2012, deadline set by the Chemical Weapons Convention for eliminating the arsenal.

The government of former dictator Muammar Qadhafi joined the convention in 2004. The accord prohibits member nations from developing, manufacturing, storing or using chemical warfare materials, and requires destruction of any existing arsenals.

Libya had neutralized 54 percent of its declared holding of roughly 25 metric tons of sulfur mustard agent, and 40 percent of nearly 1,400 metric tons of precursor chemicals, when technical difficulties halted disposal operations in February 2011.

The uprising that ultimately toppled Qadhafi began a short time later, while the malfunctioning mobile neutralization facility at the Ruwagha installation in southeastern Libya remained inactive. The nation's new leadership quickly pledged upon taking power last year to complete the work started by its predecessor.

"The destruction facility in Libya has been repaired, but additional infrastructure work and security arrangements must be completed by the Libyan authorities before OPCW inspectors can be deployed on-site and destruction operations resumed," Luhan told Global Security Newswire by e-mail.

Hundreds of previously unknown munitions filled with mustard agent were found in the wake of Qadhafi's fall, along with a limited amount of the blistering substance held in storage.

"In November 2011 and February 2012, the new Libyan government declared additional quantities of Category 1 and Category 3 chemical weapons to the OPCW. The newly declared weapons include several hundred munitions loaded with sulfur mustard agent, together with a few hundred kilograms of sulfur mustard stored in plastic containers," according to Luhan. "Altogether, this brings to about 13 metric tons the quantity of Category 1 chemical weapons that remain to be destroyed, a process we estimate should be completed within six months after destruction activities resume."

Ahmet Üzümcü, OPCW director general, was in Tripoli on Sunday and Monday for talks with officials including Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour Saad Ben Khaia and Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Muhammad Abdul Aziz.

"The meetings were marked by productive discussions on Libya’s planning and preparations to complete the destruction of its remaining stockpile of chemical weapons," according to an OPCW release issued on Wednesday. "The director general praised the transparency and openness demonstrated by the Libyan government and welcomed their constructive and cooperative approach."

"The Libyan authorities have reaffirmed their commitment to eradicate the remaining stockpiles of chemical weapons in the shortest possible time, and expressed appreciation for the support of the OPCW Technical Secretariat and assistance provided by some OPCW states parties," according to the release. "Both sides agreed to continue to coordinate closely on these operations and to work with other OPCW states parties."

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