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Experts start dismantling Syria chemical arms

07 October 2013, 06:33

Cairo - UN disarmament inspectors began dismantling Syria's chemical weapons arsenal on Sunday, a UN official in Damascus told dpa.

The team from The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) embarked on their field work after a series of meetings with Syrian government officials, the official said on condition of anonymity.

A witness said a convoy of six cars carrying the inspectors wearing bullet proof vests left a Damascus hotel, escorted by Syrian security forces.

Their destination was not disclosed.

The 20-member UN team is implementing a plan to dismantle and destroy Syria's chemical weapons production sites by 1 November.

The government's chemical arsenal is to be completely eliminated by mid-2014, under a US-Russian disarmament plan backed by a UN Security Council resolution.

President Bashar Assad has pledged to abide by the resolution, which threatens punitive measures against any Syrian parties that fail to comply with the timetable for the verification and destruction of the weapons.

On Friday, OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu told a meeting of the international watchdog body that its technical secretariat had received information from Syria that was additional to the disclosure on its chemical weapons programme submitted on 21 September.

Uzumcu is expected to provide an update to the OPCW Executive Council on Tuesday. The additional submission was being reviewed, the OPCW said its website.

Assad, who is facing an unprecedented uprising against his rule, admitted in an interview with the Germany magazine Der Spiegel that he and his government have made mistakes but added that it "has no other option than to believe in our victory".

He also was quoted as saying that the West would sooner believe the al-Qaeda terrorist network than him.

"There have been personal mistakes by individuals," Assad said. "We all make mistakes. Also a president makes mistakes."

No one can say "they have 100-per-cent guilt and we none," he said, admitting that there are "grey tones" in the 30-month civil war, in which the UN estimates more than 100 000 people have been killed.

Assad offered to hold elections before his term ends in August 2014, but refused to say whether he would be a candidate.

"I would rather not say at the moment whether I myself will run again," he said. "If I no longer have the will of the people behind me, I will not run."

Asked whether a solution to the conflict could be found at the negotiating table, he said: "With the militants? No. According to my definition, a political opposition has no weapons".

He identified Germany as a country suitable to be a mediator: "I would be pleased if envoys from Germany would come to Damascus to talks with us about the reality of the situation".

But German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Der Spiegel during a trip to Afghanistan that his country would not act as a moderator in the Syrian conflict because UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi already had that role.

Assad called Russia a "true friend" while criticising the rest of the international community, saying: "I think the West trusts al-Qaeda more than me".

The interview was Assad's latest with international media since the UN Security Council approved the resolution on removal of Syria's chemical weapons on 28 September.



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