Libya 'destroys all chemical weapons'

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz (left) speaks, as US Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones (right) looks on, during a press conference in Tripoli. Photo: 4 February 2014 Mohamed Abdelaziz: "Libya has become totally free of usable chemical weapons."

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Libya has destroyed all its chemical arsenal, the country's foreign minister has announced.

Mohamed Abdelaziz said that this included bombs and artillery shells filled with mustard gas.

In 2004, Libya said it had 25 tonnes of sulphur mustard and several thousand unfilled aerial bombs for use with chemical warfare facilities.

Tripoli has committed itself to getting rid of all its chemical arms by signing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

'Significant milestone'

"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," Mr Abdelaziz said on Tuesday in the capital Tripoli.

He added that this "would not have been possible in such a short time" without international support, including technical assistance from Canada, Germany and the US.

Libya's foreign minister said the process was completed on 26 January.

Mr Abdelaziz was speaking at a joint news conference with Ahmet Uzumcu, the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Tanks with unidentified chemicals in Libya. Photo: November 2011 The process of destroying Libya's chemical arsenal began in 2004

Mr Uzumcu - who had visited the site in Ruwagha where the chemical weapons were destroyed last week - described the move as a "significant milestone" for Libya.

He added that it was a "good example of international co-operation now emulated in Syria on a larger scale".

The process began 10 years ago under the then Libyan leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi, when Tripoli joined the CWC.

Gaddafi's government had succeeded in getting rid of 54% of its declared sulphur mustard and about 40% of the precursor chemicals before operations had to be suspended in February 2011 when the destruction facility stopped working.

Gaddafi was ousted from power later that year, and the country's new rulers then told OPCW inspectors about the previously undeclared chemical stocks.

The arsenal destroyed by Libya falls under "Category 1 chemical weapons", the OPCW said.

The organisation says such materials "have been used as chemical weapons in the past and/or have very few or no peaceful uses, and thus pose the most direct threat" to the CWC.

It added that the destruction of chemical precursors - Category 2 chemicals - was to be completed by Libya by December 2016.

Precursors are defined as "chemicals involved in production stages for toxic chemicals". Most of these chemicals "have some industrial uses".

The OPCW is an independent international organisation which works with the UN to monitor the 1997 convention banning the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.

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