Syria hands over last of declared chemical weapons

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Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for the UN speaks during an interview with Associated Press at a UN compound in the UN buffer zone in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on Monday. Kaag said that “100 percent” of Syria’s chemical weapons material has been removed or destroyed inside the war-torn country, hailing the development that beat a June 30th deadline as a significant milestone for the people of Syria and the region.

Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for the UN speaks during an interview with Associated Press at a UN compound in the UN buffer zone in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on Monday. Kaag said that “100 percent” of Syria’s chemical weapons material has been removed or destroyed inside the war-torn country, hailing the development that beat a June 30th deadline as a significant milestone for the people of Syria and the region.

NICOSIA, Cyprus: The last of Syria’s acknowledged stockpile of chemical weapons has been handed over to Western governments for destruction, the organization charged with overseeing the elimination of such weapons said Monday.

The final 8 percent of the 1,300-ton stockpile, which included mustard gas and raw materials for making sarin nerve gas, have been loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships in the Syrian port of Latakia, said Ahmet Uzumcu, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, also known as OPCW.

Speaking at a press conference in The Hague, however, Uzumcu acknowledged that it is still possible Syria has avoided declaring some part of its arsenal.

“I can’t say … that Syria doesn’t have any chemical weapons anymore,” he said. However, he added that is true of any country that his organization cooperates with, and Syria’s declared arsenal was close to estimates made by external security analysts and experts.

In an interview with The Associated Press in Cyprus, Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint United Nations-OPCW mission in Syria, said her team’s experts “are working closely with the Syrian Republic to look at any discrepancies or any revisions (to Syria’s declaration) that need to take place.”

Syria’s government agreed to surrender its arsenal last fall when the US threatened punitive missile strikes after a chemical attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus believed to have killed more than a thousand people.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday it had eliminated the chemicals despite difficult security circumstances caused by its ongoing civil war.

It credited the “firm political will of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the initiative of the Russian President Vladimir Putin” to give up the arsenal under the supervision of the UN Security Council.

“This significant achievement is further evidence that Syria adheres to its international commitments,” the Syrian statement said.

Uzumcu described Syrian government cooperation as “satisfactory.”

Mission chief Kaag said that although the chemicals won’t be destroyed by an initial June 30 target date, “we’re very pleased with meeting this milestone.”

“It’s not every day, or rather it’s the first time, that a country at war accedes to a chemical weapons convention,” she said.

Some doubts remain as to whether Syria has seen the last use of toxic chemicals in warfare however.
Following an investigation last month, an OPCW fact-finding mission found evidence that chlorine gas has been used as a weapon in fighting between rebels and Assad’s government. But a May 27 attack on the fact-finding mission prevented it from inspecting an alleged site in the village of Kfar Zeita, 125 miles north of Damascus. It stopped short of saying which side was to blame.

Chlorine is a common industrial chemical and not considered a chemical weapon, though using any toxic material as a weapon is illegal under international law.

The chemicals shipped out of Syria Monday are being transported to a second ship, the US-owned MV Cape Ray, which is equipped with facilities to render them inert.

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