Chemical weapons watchdog says confident on Syria deadlines


By Anthony Deutsch

THE HAGUE, Oct 17 (Reuters) - The world's chemical weaponswatchdog is confident it will be able to meet deadlines todestroy Syria's toxic stockpile even though some sites are indisputed or rebel-held territory, a special adviser to theorganisation's director general said.

Inspectors from the Hague-based Organisation for theProhibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which won the NobelPeace Prize last week, have visited nearly half of more than 20sites declared by Damascus, Malik Ellahi, special adviser toDirector General Ahmet Uzumcu, said on Thursday.

"We are on track. The team is confident, the morale is highand cooperation from the Syrian authorities has beenforthcoming," he said.

Under a Russian-American brokered deal, Syria has until Nov.1 to destroy or render unusable all chemical agent productionand weapon filling facilities. Ellahi said the team had been"making good progress in making those sites inoperable" bydestroying equipment and facilities.

The OPCW expects to be able to access sites, including inrebel-held territory, with a joint U.N. mission negotiatingceasefires with forces fighting against the government ofPresident Bashar al-Assad, he said.

"In terms of the security situation there are alwaysconcerns, but the team so far has had the cooperation of theSyrian authorities and managed to conduct its work unimpeded,"Ellahi said.

Details of Syria's programme have not been made public, butexperts and Western intelligence agencies have said it has 1,000metric tonnes of chemical weapons, including sarin, mustard andVX nerve agent.

"What we have verified so far has been according to thedisclosure" of chemical weapons submitted to the OPCW by Syria, Ellahi told reporters in The Hague. "We have not found anythingof significance which we should be worried about."

Dozens of inspectors on the ground were working in dangerousconditions, with shells and explosive devices having gone offnear their hotel in Damascus in recent days, he said.

By mid-2014 Syria must have destroyed its entire chemicalweapons stockpile, including all munitions, bulk chemical storesand research facilities.

Discussions were underway with parties in the conflict togain access to sites in sensitive locations. "They are stillworking on those issues," he said.

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