Experts Begin Dismantling Syrian Chemical Program

BEIRUT (AP) -

International disarmament experts on Sunday began dismantling and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and the equipment used to produce it, taking the first concrete step in their colossal task of eliminating the country’s chemical stockpile by mid-2014, an official said.

The inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have about nine months to purge President Bashar Assad’s regime of its chemical program. The mission, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, faces the tightest deadline in the watchdog group’s history and must simultaneously navigate Syria’s bloody civil war.

Sunday marked the fifth day that an advance team of around 20 inspectors have been in the country and the first day that involved actually disabling and destroying weapons and machinery, an official on the joint OPCW-U.N. mission said.

The production equipment included filling and mixing machinery, some of it mobile, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The Syrians are responsible for the actual physical demolition of the materials, while OPCW inspectors monitor the process and verify what is being destroyed, the official said. He declined to provide details or say where the work took place.