UN urges Syria to speed up role in elimination of chemical weapons

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 29 (PNA/Xinhua) — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said he has expressed concern to the Syrian government of its “now behind schedule” in the elimination of chemical weapon and said it was “imperative” Damascus “intensify its efforts.”

Ban said in a letter sent to the UN Security Council on Tuesday that he was aware of the “volatile security situation” faced by the Syrian government, involved in a nearly three-year-old civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people and displaced more than 6 million people.

Following the alleged use of Sarin gas that killed hundreds in Syria last August, Syria announced it was joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and said it would eliminate its chemical weapons with the help of the international community.

The government and opposition blamed each other for the Aug. 21 gas attack.

The 15-nation Security Council endorsed the elimination move, established a joint UN-OPCW mission to oversee it and mandated regular progress reports from the secretary-general.

On Jan. 7, priority chemical weapons were moved to the Syrian port of Latakia where they were processed and loaded onto a Danish cargo vessel, which then left the port and set out to sea escorted by a naval ship from “participating member states” of the United Nations.

It waited at sea for further chemicals. Britain, China, Danish, Norwegian, Russian and U.S. ships are participating.

“Since then, however there has been no further movement of chemical weapons material and the vessels remain positioned outside Syrian territorial waters while waiting for chemical weapons material from the storage sites to arrive at the port of Latakia,” Ban said in a letter to the council, accompanying the latest OPCW report, dated January 24.

“I am concerned that more movements have not taken place,” he added, recalling the Dec. 31 deadline for the removal of all priority chemical weapons material had been missed by a few days and “the Feb. 5 deadline to remove other chemical materials is imminent.”

“The operation to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program is now behind schedule,” the secretary-general said.

“I have spoken to the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) and other member states concerned to express my concern regarding this delay,” he said. “The director-general of OPCW (Ahmet Uzumcu) and the special coordinator (heading the joint mission, Sigrid Kaag) have similarly engaged senior Syrian representatives to persuade them to enable immediate removal.”

“The delay is not insurmountable,” Ban said. “The June 30, 2014 deadline is still five months away. However, it is imperative that the SAR now examine the situation, intensify its efforts to expedite in-country movements of chemical weapons material and continue to meet its obligations.”

Uzumcu’s report said he had expressed his concern to Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, regarding Syria’s reporting obligations and “the substantial expenses being borne by Denmark and Norway with regard to the cargo ships and the potential risks in relation to the commercial tendering process posed by the delay.”

Britain, China, Russia and the United States provided naval ships for security.

Remains of some of the chemicals used in the weapons being disassembled are to be handled by commercial firms while others are to be treated through hydrolysis aboard a U.S. Navy ship at sea.

The chemicals for commercial rendering were to be taken to the port of Giaoia Tauro in southern Italy, the director-general said.

Germany said it would destroy effluent during destruction of mustard agent, Belarus provided 13 field kitchens for related work in Syria and Britain said it “would provide equipment to support the process of neutralization of chemical warfare agents.” he said.

More than a dozen countries, including those participating, contributed to a Special Trust Fund for the Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons which, Uzumcu said, stood at 13 million euros ( about 17.8 million U.S. dollars) as of January 24. (PNA/Xinhua)