Russia sends armored trucks to Syria to transport chemical arms

MOSCOW Mon Dec 23, 2013 5:00am EST

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference with Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (not seen) in Strelna near St. Petersburg, November 22, 2013. REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference with Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (not seen) in Strelna near St. Petersburg, November 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has sent 25 armored trucks and 50 other vehicles to Syria to help transport toxins that are to be destroyed under an international agreement to rid the nation of its chemical arsenal, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday.

In a report to President Vladimir Putin, Shoigu said Russian aircraft delivered 50 Kamaz trucks and 25 Ural armored trucks to the Syrian port city of Latakia on December 18-20 along with other equipment, state-run news agency RIA reported.

"The Defence Ministry has very swiftly implemented actions to deliver to Syria equipment and materiel to provide for the removal of Syrian chemical weapons and their destruction," Shoigu was quoted as saying.

Syria has agreed to abandon it chemical weapons under a deal proposed by Russia to avert potential U.S. military action after a deadly August 21 sarin gas attack the United States blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Damascus agreed to transport the "most critical" chemicals, including around 20 tons of mustard nerve agent, out of the northern port of Latakia by December 31 to be safely destroyed abroad away from the war zone.

Western powers has baulked at Syria's request for military transport equipment to transport chemical weapons material to Latakia because of concerns it could be used to fight Assad's opponents in the conflict or kill civilians.

Russia has been a major seller of conventional weapons to Syria and has given Assad crucial support during the conflict, blocking attempts to punish with sanctions and saying his exit must not be a precondition for a peace process.

Syrian government forces took control of a key highway connecting Damascus to the coast earlier this month, but the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has voiced concern the deadline could be missed.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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