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Watchdog: Half of Syria's chemicals removed

Chemical weapons agency says 53.6 percent of stockpiles have been destroyed or shipped overseas.

Last updated: 27 Mar 2014 06:59
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Syria agreed to a US-Russian deal to eliminate its chemical arms last year [Reuters]

Syria has sent 49 percent of the raw materials used for its poison gas and nerve agent programme abroad for destruction, according to the chemical weapons watchdog overseeing the removal of the country's stockpiles.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a report to the United Nations that the total percentage of chemicals either removed or already destroyed inside the country was at 53.6 percent.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press news agency on Wednesday, said Syria pledged to remove all chemicals by April 13, except for those in areas "presently inaccessible," which face an April 27 deadline.

Damascus agreed to destroy all chemical weapons facilities and surrender 1,300 metric tonnes of toxic agents to a joint OPCW/United Nations mission by mid-year as part of a US-Russian agreement negotiated after a chemical attack last August that killed hundreds of people around the capital.

The August attack was blamed on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which denied involvement.

In a cover letter to the new OPCW report, addressed to the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said two incidents this month of rocket attacks on the Syrian port of Latakia "did not stop the removal operations".

But Ban urged speed, saying "the precarious and unstable nature of the security situation further underlines the importance of expediting the removal of chemical weapons material from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic as quickly and as safely as possible".

The most toxic chemicals, including mustard gas and raw materials for making the nerve agent sarin, are being put on Danish and Norwegian cargo ships at the port of Latakia and will be transferred to a US ship, MV Cape Ray, in the Italian port of Gioia Tauro. The Cape Ray is equipped with two machines that will render the chemicals inert.

Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, on Wednesday said fighters' attempts to shut down the port and affect the chemical shipments were "trying to create a catastrophe".

Rebels have launched an assault in the coastal province of Latakia this week. They seized a border crossing and continued to make small advances in several villages. 

Syria's government previously missed a December 31 deadline to remove the most dangerous chemicals in its stockpile and a February 5 deadline to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons.

The Assad regime has frequently cited security concerns but has repeated that it remains fully committed to the process.

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Source:
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