Libya 'lacks chemical arms ability'

Libya retains deadly mustard gas but has no weapons to deliver it, watchdog enforcing a ban on chemical weapons says.

    Gaddafi has allegedly hired mercenaries to attack protesters and some fear he could also use chemical arms [Reuters]

    Libya retains 9.5 tonnes of deadly mustard gas but no longer has weapons to deliver it, a watchdog agency has said, amid international concern that embattled leader Muammar Gaddafi might resort to its use.

    Michael Luhan, spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told Reuters the
    chemicals were under the army's control but were stored in a remote location far from the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi's main

    "As far as we have been able to verify, and we have no information that indicates anything to the contrary, Libya
    destroyed the entire stockpile of its chemical weapons munitions - a cache of several thousand aerial bombs that are designed for chemicals - in early 2004, seven years ago," he said by telephone from the OPCW's base in The Hague.

    Luhan declined to say where the mustard gas was located but added: "It's nowhere near Tripoli, let's put it that way."
    "It's kept in a location which is only for that purpose. It's a depot guarded by the military."

    Peter Flory, then US Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Policy, told Congress in April 2006 that
    Libyan chemical weapons and materials were stored in a remote location in the desert, about 600 km from Tripoli.

    There have been fears that Gaddafi, who has said he will fight to the death, could use chemical weapons in a last ditch
    attempt to cling to power.

    The OPCW, which enforces a global chemical weapons ban, says it has monitored Libya's destruction of more than 3,300 bomb casings designed to carry chemical agents since 2004.

    Committed to destroy arms

    Libya announced in December 2003 it would abandon any efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, in an effort to mend ties with the West, after agreeing to pay damages for the 1988 Pan Am plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

    Libya joined OPCW in 2004 and committed itself to destroying all its chemical weapons and the capacity to produce them by April 2007.

    Disputes ensued between Tripoli and Washington over funding for the internationally-financed programme and in 2007 Libya informed the US it planned to back out of its promise to destroy its mustard gas stocks.

    The OPCW later granted Libya an extension until May 2011 to destroy the rest of its mustard gas stocks.

    The OPCW is the implementing body of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which has been ratified by 188 countries and bans many varieties of mass-destruction chemical arms.

    The sulfur mustards, also known as mustard gas, are vesicant chemical warfare agents with the ability to form large blisters on exposed skin. When used in impure form they are usually yellow-brown in colour and have an odour resembling mustard plants, garlic or horseradish, hence the name.

    Mustard agents can be deployed on the battlefield via spraying from aircraft, or more typically by means of air-dropped bombs or artillery shells.

    Government forces confronting nearly two weeks of anti-Gaddafi protests have carried out a violent crackdown against demonstrators. The death toll from the violence is estimated by diplomats to be about 2,000.

    The UN Security Council called for the crackdown to be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation
    and possible prosecution of anyone responsible for killing civilians.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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