Libya Finishes Destroying Mustard Agent

Daniel Horner

Libya has destroyed its last remaining stockpiles of sulfur mustard, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced in a Feb. 4 press release.

With the completion of the effort, which was marked with a Feb. 4 press conference in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, Libya has destroyed the last of its declared material designated as “Category 1” under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). That category covers chemicals that pose the highest risk. The recently destroyed material was considered particularly important and sensitive because it had been loaded into munitions, which were destroyed along with the sulfur mustard.

Under the regime of Moammar Gaddafi, Libya joined the CWC in 2004, declaring 24.7 metric tons of sulfur mustard, all of it in the form of bulk agent. It began destroying its stockpiles of sulfur mustard in October 2010 and was able to eliminate about 13.5 metric tons before a heating unit in the disposal facility broke down in February 2011. The breakdown came at about the same time as the beginning of the protests that ultimately toppled Gaddafi later that year.

Shortly after coming to power, the new Libyan government declared additional quantities of items and material related to chemical weapons, including sulfur mustard. Unlike the previously declared stocks, the new ones were in “artillery projectiles and aerial bombs,” as the OPCW described it in the Feb. 4 release. That declaration brought the total of Category 1 material to 26.3 metric tons, according to the OPCW.

After the disposal facility resumed operation last year, Libya completed destruction of the bulk mustard agent in May. At the Tripoli press conference, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz said the destruction of the more recently declared material was finished on Jan. 26, according to the OPCW press release.

In comments posted on the OPCW website, Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü cited Canada, Germany, and the United States for their assistance to the Libyan effort. Representatives of those three countries joined Abdulaziz and Üzümcü at the Tripoli press conference.

Canada provided 6 million Canadian dollars ($5.4 million) to rebuild infrastructure at the destruction site and fund various aspects of the operation, while Germany and the United States provided destruction equipment, Üzümcü said. The U.S. assistance also covered a range of other areas, including safety and security, and Washington has offered to continue providing technical assistance in destroying the remaining polymerized mustard agent in canisters, Üzümcü said. Polymerized mustard agent is toxic, but cannot be used to fill chemical weapons, he said.

Libya has about 850 metric tons of Category 2 chemicals, about 60 percent of the declared quantity, that it still must destroy, Üzümcü said.

Libya, along with Russia and the United States, was one of three declared possessors of chemical weapons that did not meet the CWC deadline of April 29, 2012, for destroying all of its arsenal. Syria, which now is in the process of destroying its chemical arsenal, was not a CWC party in 2012.

At the time, Libya agreed on a schedule under which it would complete destruction of Category 2 material by 2016. (See ACT, June 2012.) Üzümcü said in his comments he was “confident” Libya could meet the schedule.