Thursday, January 16, 2014

Syria chemical weapons: Security 'slows transport'

The head of the UN body tasked with removing and destroying Syria's chemical arsenal says the process has been slowed down by security concerns.
Ahmet Uzumcu said the amount of chemicals transported to the Syrian port of Latakia for shipping so far was not that high.
But he expressed confidence the arms would be destroyed by the end of June.
Removing the most dangerous chemicals is the first step of a UN-backed deal to eliminate Syria's chemical arsenal.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) set a deadline of 31 March for this first stage, with all Syria's chemical arms stockpile to be destroyed by 30 June.
Meanwhile, Italy has confirmed that its southern port of Gioia Tauro will be used as the base for the chemicals to be transferred from cargo ships to a US military vessel for destruction, angering local officials.
Fraction removed
Mr Uzumcu, speaking in Rome, said the transport delays were due to technical problems and the obvious difficulties of operating in a warzone.
But he said additional measures had been put in place to help smooth the transportation.
The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons to Latakia.
Denmark and Norway are providing cargo ships and military escorts to take them to Italy, where they will loaded onto a US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray.
The materials be destroyed in international waters by a process known as hydrolysis.
Italy's Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi confirmed on Thursday that Gioia Tauro would handle the ship-to-ship transfer, "following international standards and in absolute secure conditions". He stressed that none of the cargo would come ashore.
But the town's Mayor, Renato Bellofiore, told the BBC he was not consulted over the plan, only hearing of it through the media.
"Democracy has been trampled on," he said. "We are not ready for this as a population. Is there an evacuation plan? A rescue plan?"
"We are extremely worried. An accident may be unlikely, but it is not impossible."
He accused the United Nations of making his town "a dumping ground" for chemical weapons.
International outrage
Syria continues to be ravaged by the conflict which began with the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
The decision on Syria's chemical weapons stockpile arose from confirmation of a sarin attack in Damascus on 21 August.
It killed hundreds, provoked international outrage and led to a US-Russia deal to destroy the weapons.
The UN says more than 100,000 people have died since the Syrian conflict began. An estimated two million people have fled Syria and some 6.5 million have been displaced internally.
Government officials are due to attend peace talks - known as Geneva II - in Switzerland next week.
However, the main opposition alliance, the National Coalition, has still not decided whether or not to take part.
It is due to meet in Istanbul for a vote on Friday amid growing pressure from the West.
How the plan will unfold