The UN Security Council has given the go-ahead for member states to work on the elimination of Libya’s remaining chemical weapons in a move that runs the danger of being misinterpreted in those parts of the country still smarting from French terrorist monitors in Benghazi.
The UNSC resolution reads that it authorised “member states to acquire, control, transport and destroy chemical weapons” in Libya to ensure that the stockpile was destroyed in “the soonest and safest manner”.
Such an operation could only take place in coordination with the Presidency Council.
Diplomatic sources have told the Libya Herald that the basics of a transfer of the Category 2 precursor chemicals was “more or less agreed” by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague. The exact details the operation are still being worked out but it is unlikely that any international group undertaking it will include US, French, Italian or British personnel.
However it is possible that the 850 tons of precursor agents could be burnt on site, as happened in 2012. At that time, Category 1 chemical weapons, including 517 artillery shells, eight 250kg bombs loaded with mustard gas and 45 bomb components – plastic tubes filled with mustard agent – were destroyed in a special oven at the main storage site at Ruwagha. (Qaddafi had also kept chemical weapons in an underground bunker at Tarhuna).
The operation was largely paid for by the Canadian government and undertaken by a Libyan team with international experts including Americans.
The Libyan government announced in January 2014 that the next step, the destruction of the precursor agents, would be completed by the end of this year. However no further action was taken. Indeed in September that year, prime minister Abdullah Thinni begged the international community for help in the getting rid of the precursor agents, the neutralising of which had been suspended because of security concerns. The OPCW has said in the past that the chemicals are stored safely at a military base and are monitored by CCTV.
With the rise of IS and Ansar Al-Sharia terrorist organisations in the country, the fear has been that the precursors could fall into their hands. “The potential for acquisition by non-State actors of chemical weapons in Libya represents a threat to international peace and security” said the UNSC as all 15 members voted for the resolution on Friday.