Albania shuns Syria chemical weapons destruction

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Tirana

Albania will not allow the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons on its soil, the country's prime minister says.

Edi Rama was responding to days of protests in Tirana and other cities.

The Balkan nation recently destroyed its own chemical stockpile, and the US had requested that it host the dismantling of Syria's arsenal.

Despite the move, the global chemical arms watchdog said late on Friday it had adopted a final roadmap to destroy Syria's chemical arms by mid-2014.

Under a deal brokered by Russia to remove the weapons, it had been agreed that they should be destroyed outside the country if possible.

However, Mr Rama said in a televised address: "It is impossible for Albania to get involved in this operation."

The prime minister attacked the Albanian opposition for having criticised his government's willingness to consider the idea.

Albania and chemical weapons

  • The ex-communist state declared possession of 16 tonnes of mustard gas to the OPCW
  • It completed destruction of the declared weapons in July 2007
  • When further chemical agents were discovered in September 2011, they were destroyed within a year

source: OPCW

The US embassy in Tirana said in a statement that it respected the government's decision, adding that America "will continue to work with allies and partners as well as the OPCW and the United Nations to ensure the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons programme".

A key meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) - the international watchdog supervising the destruction - had adjourned for several hours in The Hague, awaiting Albania's decision.

The deadline for accepting the detailed plan was to run out on Friday.

After a meeting of the OPCW's 41-member executive council in The Hague. the organisation announced that it had approved the plan to transport Syria's chemical weapons stockpile outside its territory no later than 5 February 2014, with all chemical materials to be destroyed by 30 June 2014.

No destination for the stockpile was mentioned in the statement. However, France and Belgium have been named as possible alternative locations for destroying Syria's estimated 1,000 tonnes of chemical arms.

'Extreme situation'

Norway has pledged to send a civilian cargo ship and a navy frigate to Syrian ports to pick up the weapons and carry them elsewhere for destruction.

However it said that it could not destroy the weapons on its own soil because it lacked the expertise.

The OPCW confirmed last month that it had destroyed all Syria's declared chemical weapons production facilities, ahead of a 1 November deadline.

The weapons themselves had been placed under seal, it said.

Sigrid Kaag, the joint OPCW-UN mission coordinator in Syria, told Friday's OPCW meeting that inspectors were working "in an active war zone, in an extreme security situation".

An Albanian environmental activist wears a gas mask and holds up a national flag as he takes part in a protest in front of the Albanian parliament in Tirana (14 November 2013) Demonstrators feared the proposal's safety implications and a possible impact on the tourism industry

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