DAMASCUS: Syria’s entire declared stock of chemical weapons has been placed under seal, a watchdog said Thursday, as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi wrapped up a Syria visit to muster support for Geneva talks.
“All stocks of chemical weapons and agents have been placed under seals that are impossible to break,” Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons spokesman Christian Chartier told AFP, adding the seals were “tamper proof”.
“These are 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents (which can be used to make weapons) and 290 tonnes of chemical weapons,” Chartier said in The Hague.
OPCW and UN inspectors have until mid-2014 to destroy Syria’s entire chemical arsenal and production facilities under the terms of a US-Russian deal to head off military strikes on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“The weapons and agents remain at their respective sites, we’re not yet at the stage of moving them,” Chartier said.
OPCW said earlier that Syria’s declared chemical arms production equipment had been destroyed ahead of a Friday deadline.
The organisation’s head of field operations, Jerry Smith, told the BBC his team had “personally observed all the destruction activities”.
“They are not now in a position to conduct any further production or mixing of chemical weapons.”
The OPCW inspectors had visited all 23 chemical weapons sites but for two in areas considered “too dangerous,” Smith said.
“But the contents (of those two) were moved to other sites that we did visit. Therefore we have visited and seen the destruction of all Syria’s declared chemical weapons capability.”
The OPCW statements came as Brahimi held meetings in Damascus with opposition members tolerated by the regime.
He has been travelling the Middle East since mid-October to garner support for proposed peace talks, dubbed Geneva II. He is due to travel back to Beirut on Friday.
The Syrian leg of the tour is the most sensitive, as the veteran Algerian diplomat needs to persuade a wary regime and an increasingly divided opposition to attend.
His meetings in his Damascus hotel on Thursday were with 15 political, civil society and NGO personalities, including former information minister Mohammad Salman, who now describes himself as an opponent of the regime, an AFP journalist said.
Brahimi also met with Mahmoud Merhi, who leads the tiny Gathering of Democratic Civil Forces, which groups together Syria-based dissidents.
According to Merhi, “Brahimi is optimistic, and he might have something to announce about (peace initiative) Geneva II after his meeting Tuesday with (US and Russian diplomatic chiefs John) Kerry and (Sergei) Lavrov.”
Brahimi had on Wednesday held talks which lasted less than an hour with Assad, during which the Syrian president criticised foreign interference in his country.
“The Syrian people are the only ones who have the right to decide on Syria’s future,” state media quoted Assad as telling Brahimi.
“Putting an end to support for the terrorists and pressuring the states that support them is the most important step to prepare… for dialogue,” he said, using his regime’s term for rebels.
In an interview this month, Assad cast doubt on the possibility of his regime attending the Geneva talks, saying he would not negotiate with any group tied to the rebels or to foreign states.
The main opposition National Coalition has said it will refuse to take part in any talks unless Assad’s resignation is on the table, and some rebel groups have warned participants will be considered traitors.
More than 115,000 people have been killed in the 31-month armed uprising against the Assad regime triggered by his forces’ bloody crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired democracy protests.
Thousands more have been detained both by the regime and by rebels, and many civilians, including foreign journalists, have gone missing, some abducted by jihadist groups.
One of those who was kidnapped, Polish photojournalist Marcin Suder, managed to escape his captors and is back home, Poland’s foreign ministry announced on Thursday.
“He was very lucky, he managed to escape,” ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski told AFP without elaborating.
Suder, a 34-year-old freelancer who worked for the Corbis agency and other outlets, was abducted by masked gunmen on July 24 during a raid on a media centre in Saraqeb, in the mainly rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.