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End of the line for Libya's arms chemicals

September 9, 2016

A German company is starting to destroy tons of chemicals from an arms program of ex-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The removal and destruction of the chemicals eases fears that extremists could gain access to them.

GEKA in Munster Niedersachsen
Image: picture-alliance/U. Baumgarten

The state-owned German company GEKA will begin to destroy about 551 tons (500 metric tons) of dual-use compounds left over from the chemical weapons program of deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the coming months, German officials said on Friday.

The chemicals arrived at the company's headquarters in the northern town of Munster in the state of Lower Saxony on Thursday after being shipped out on a Danish vessel from the Libyan port of Misrata on August 30 under United Nations supervision.

The now complete removal of the dangerous weapons precursors alleviates concerns that extremist groups such as "Islamic State" (IS) could get their hands on them amid Libya's highly unstable security situation.

'A tangible contribution'

"These chemical weapon precursors have not been weaponized, and now they never will be by anyone," the UN-backed Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement on Thursday.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen described the destruction of the chemicals as "a small, but very tangible contribution by Germany to improve the security situation in a country struggling for order and stability."

Germany has also been involved in destroying poison gas from Syria.

GEKA in Munster
GEKA is a specialized weapons destruction facilityImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Steffen

Final phase

Libya, which had originally intended to destroy the chemicals itself, made a formal request to the OPCW in July for international assistance in removing them.

The North African country joined the UN convention banning chemical weapons in 2004 as a bid by Gadhafi to improve ties with the West. The country had already destroyed part of the stocks when the uprising against Gadhafi that led to his ouster and death interrupted operations in 2011, but large amounts still remained stored in the central Jafa area.

Chemical tanks in Libya
Many of the chemicals were stored in tanks amid the sandImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. Desmazes

The destruction of the stocks in Germany will be the last phase of ridding Libya of the chemical weapons components. A number of other Western countries, including France, Italy the United Kingdom and the United States, have assisted in the operation.

tj/sms (AP, dpa, AFP)