March 'critical' to eliminate Syria chemical arms

Photo: March 'critical' to eliminate Syria chemical arms / Arabic region

March will be a "critical" month for Syria if it is to maintain its timetable for dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal, the U.N. official tasked with overseeing the mission said on Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

"The month of March, as I informed the Security Council, is the critical month to look at continued progress towards the overall deadline," Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator for a joint mission by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to disassemble the weapons said, Al Arabiya reported.

She made her remarks after briefing members of the Security Council early Wednesday by Damascus toward the goal of destroying or handing over its arsenal of banned weapons before a June 30 deadline.

There has been "an acceleration and an intensification" of effort by Damascus, and that about 35 percent of weapons material now has been shipped, Kaag said.

"A number of shipments have taken place and will continue to take place," she said.

"About one third of Syrian chemical weapons materials has been removed or destroyed."

Over the next few days, she added, "we expect to reach already 40 or 41 percent, and we look forward to see continued progress."

After Damascus missed several key dates, the U.N. Security Council last week demanded that it moves faster.

The government missed a Dec. 31 deadline to remove the most dangerous chemicals in its stockpile from the war-torn country and a Feb. 5 deadline to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons.

Presdient Bashar al-Assad government cited security concerns and the lack of some equipment but said it remains fully committed to the process.

Syrian authorities submitted a revised timeline that would complete the removal and destruction of the arms on time.

The revised timeline will be "in time, should all go well, to meet the overall deadline of June 30," Kaag said, according to the Associated Press.

Syria agreed to hand over its chemical weapons for destruction after Washington threatened military action in response to a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus in August 2013.

The United States and the Syrian opposition blamed the attack, which reportedly killed hundreds of people, on the Syrian regime.

It denied involvement, but under pressure agreed to dismantle its chemical weapons program.

Meanwhile, Chemical weapons used in two incidents in Syria last year appear to come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military, United Nations human rights investigators said Wednesday in a report that went beyond previous findings.

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