Libya expected to destroy mustard gas stockpiles - watchdog

VIENNA, March 19 Tue Mar 19, 2013 12:07pm EDT

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VIENNA, March 19 (Reuters) - Libya is expected to restart destroying its ageing stockpiles of mustard gas next month after a break of more than two years, the global chemical weapons watchdog said on Tuesday.

Destruction of the stockpile at facilities in Ruwagha, about 700 km (430 miles) from the capital Tripoli, was suspended in early 2011 due to technical problems and was further delayed by the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi later the same year.

Securing Gaddafi-era weapons stockpiles has been seen as a major challenge for Libya's new rulers as they struggle to bring law and order after the conflict. Last year, there was an estimated 13 tonnes of sulphur mustard gas at the site.

"Now the equipment is repaired," Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said.

"We expect that the destruction ... will resume some time in April under the verification of our inspectors," he told a seminar of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

In the meantime, Uzumcu said, some new chemical munitions had been discovered in Libya and declared to the OPCW, including artillery shells. The OPCW would assist Libya in destroying those, once the authorities decided on how to do it.

"They are very cooperative, very transparent. With the new government we have established very close cooperation," he said.

The 15-year-old OPCW enforces the Chemical Weapons Convention which has been joined by 188 countries, including Libya. It says almost 80 percent of the world's global stocks of chemical weapons has been eliminated.

Uzumcu said his organisation was making every effort to get eight countries still outside the pact - including Syria, Israel and Egypt - on board. "We expect Myanmar, Angola and South Sudan to join the organisation in the coming - hopefully - months, if not years," he said. (Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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