Inspectors: Destroying Syrian chemical weapons may be slowed


OSLO, Norway - The head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning watchdog leading the mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons says there may be delays in transporting the chemicals out of the war-torn country.

The most toxic chemicals are supposed to be taken out of Syria by Dec. 31, but that deadline "will be quite difficult to meet," Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told reporters in Oslo on Monday.

"This is very challenging, especially in view of the security situation, which is worsening in this country," he said.

He also called the goal to get less-toxic chemicals out of Syria by Feb. 5 "quite an ambitious timeline" and added "there might be a few days' delay."

Nevertheless, Uzumcu said he's hopeful all the Syrian chemicals will be destroyed by mid-2014 as planned.

He spoke to reporters in Oslo, where he was to collect the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the OPCW on Tuesday.

The plan is to ship the chemicals from the port of Latakia, from where the arms would be shipped for destruction abroad or at sea, but getting them there in the middle of a civil war is a challenge.

Syria's deputy foreign minister last week said his country needs armored vehicles and other resources to move chemicals out of the country.

"It's correct that all material and equipment may not be available for the transportation but we are looking ... for alternatives," Uzumcu said. "That's why there might be slight delays in fact in transportation of those weapons outside of the country."

According to state media reports, Syrian troops captured the town of Nabek, near the country's main north-south highway on Monday. The highway links Damascus, with the central city of Homs, and is critical for the overland transport of Syria's chemical weapons to port.

Syrian activists disputed the state media reports, saying the rebels still hold part of Nabek.

Reuters is reporting that Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Monday his government could help provide transport to take Syrian chemical weapons to the Mediterranean port

Norway and Denmark have also offered merchant ships to help transport chemicals, and the United States will provide a ship on which the most toxic chemicals can be destroyed at sea.

Packaging materials that will be used when chemicals are transported have already started to arrive in Lebanon and the mission has organized a course to train Syrian personnel in preparing the chemicals to be moved out of the country by sea.

Some three dozen private companies also have expressed an interest in destroying less-toxic chemicals, which make up the bulk of the 1,300 metric tons of weapons and chemicals declared by Damascus.

Meanwhile, Syria's local and international telephone lines and the Internet went down for about for 2.5 hours on Monday because of "technical problems," state TV said. The station later reported that technicians fixed the problem on the main fiber-optic cable.

Canadian network monitoring firm BGPmon said Syria was hit by a countrywide Internet outage on Monday affecting more than 90 percent of the nation's networks. The monitoring firm did not say what had caused the outage.