Libya's government has declared the North African country free of chemical weapons, a decade after dictator Moammar Gadhafi had agreed to destroy his stockpiles. But chemical precursor stocks still have to be eliminated.
Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz declared on Tuesday that "Libya has become totally free of useable chemical weapons that might present a potential threat to the security of local communities, the environment, or neighboring areas."
Col. Moammar Gadhafi had agreed in 2004 to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention in a bid to improve historically hostile relations with Western nations, particularly the United States. At the time, Tripoli declared 25 metric tons of sulfur mustard, 1,400 metric tons of precursor chemicals, and 3,500 unfilled aerial bombs designed to deliver chemical weapons.
But Libya's 2011 civil war interrupted the process of neutralizing the chemical weapons. Gadhafi had destroyed 55 percent of his declared sulfur mustard and 40 percent of his precursor chemical stockpiles before he was overthrown and killed by NATO-backed rebels.
The disarmament process was resumed in 2012 under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Last September, the US signed a deal with the Libyan government to quickly destroy the rest of the stockpiles. Washington had grown increasingly concerned that the remaining chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist militants, who largely operate with a free hand in destabilized post-Gadhafi Libya.
The remaining chemical weapons were destroyed in a facility at the remote city of Ruwagha, located 600 kilometers south of Tripoli. OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu has said Libya still has low-grade precursor chemicals, which are scheduled to be destroyed by 2016.
According to Uzumcu, Libya has provided "a good example of international cooperation now emulated in Syria on a larger scale."
But the international community is struggling to destroy Syria's chemical weapons. Damascus agreed last year to give up its stockpiles under the threat of US military action. But the civil war there has delayed the process, with only four percent of the regime's declared stockpiles shipped out of the country for destruction.
slk/jm (AP, AFP)