TRIPOLI // Libya has completely destroyed the chemical arsenal it inherited from Muammar Qaddafi, 10 years after the now slain dictator signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, foreign minister Mohammed Abdelaziz announced on Tuesday.
The completion of the disarmament process, begun under the ousted regime but was interrupted by the Nato-backed uprising that overthrew it, comes as the much bigger operation underway in Syria is seriously behind schedule to the mounting alarm of the West.
“Libya has become totally free of usable chemical weapons that might present a potential threat to the security of local communities, the environment and neighbouring areas,” the minister said.
“This achievement would not have been possible in such a short time, without concerted efforts within an international partnership, or without the logistical support and the technical assistance from Canada, Germany and the USA, which provided the opportunity to use very advanced, safe and reliable technology.”
Mr Abdelaziz was speaking at a ceremony to mark the milestone that was attended by Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (Opcw) chief Ahmet Uzumcu, who hailed international support for the disarmament operation, which he said was now being mirrored in Syria.
It provided a “good example of international cooperation now emulated in Syria on a larger scale,” the Opcw chief said.
Mr Uzumcu said he had visited the city of Al Raogha, around 700 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli, earlier in the day to inspect the warehouse where Libya’s largest outstanding stockpile of mustard gas had been housed before its destruction.
The Opcw chief said Libya still held stocks of low-grade Category 2 precursor chemicals but that a programme had been put in place to destroy them by the end of 2016.
The watchdog’s work only covers the Qaddafi regime’s chemical weapons programme and has not addressed the stocks of concentrated uranium, or yellowcake, that it acquired in its bid for a nuclear weapon.
At the end of 2011, in the aftermath of the revolution that toppled Qaddafi, a large stock of yellowcake was discovered at an arms depot in the main southern city of Sebha.
The stockpile has since been secured in collaboration with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.
But the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tripoli has asked the Libyan authorities to ensure the concentrated uranium is used for the benefit of Libyans, in “industrial and agricultural development and in the production of clean energy”.
The Qaddafi regime signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and joined the Opcw in 2004 as part of its ultimately abortive efforts to shake off its pariah status and mend relations with the West.
Libya had 13 tonnes of mustard gas when it signed the treaty, but the former regime claimed at the time to have destroyed the munitions needed to deliver the deadly substance.
In the years following the signing, Qaddafi’s regime destroyed around 54 per cent of its mustard gas stocks and about 40 per cent of the chemicals used to manufacture the substance, besides 3,500 bombs intended to deliver deadly chemicals.
The process, supervised by OPCW experts, resumed in 2012.
It intensified last September with the signing of a deal with Washington, which was increasingly concerned that the stockpiles might fall into the hands of ex-rebel militia, some of them Islamist, that the government has struggled to contain.
The Syrian disarmament operation, agreed to by Damascus last year under threat of Western military action, is running seriously behind schedule, sparking mounting concern in Washington.
Syria has declared around 700 tonnes of most-dangerous chemicals, which were supposed to have been shipped out by December 31.
Another 500 tonnes of less-dangerous precursor chemicals are supposed to be shipped out by Wednesday.
But so far just two small shipments have left the Syrian port of Latakia, accounting for less than four per cent of the country’s declared arsenal of most dangerous chemicals and none of the precursors.
US secretary of state John Kerry warned Syrian president Bashar Al Assad on Friday he could face consequences for failing to live up to international agreements on removing his chemical weapons stockpile.
* Agence France-Presse