Chemical watchdog chief to give rare Syria update

THE HAGUE (AFP) - The head of the world's chemical weapons watchdog was due on Wednesday to give a rare public briefing on the state of Syria's disarmament, after promising to send a second wave of inspectors to the war-ravaged nation.

The head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, will provide an update on the "long and difficult" task of dismantling Syria's chemical arsenal at 1130 GMT.

Members of an OPCW advance team who have returned from Syria as well as Uzumcu's political advisor, Malik Ellahi, will fill journalists in on the OPCW mission, facing a tight mid-2014 deadline to rid Syria of all chemical weapons and facilities.

Because of the nature of its work, the OPCW rarely communicates in detail about its activities.

It is currently holding a regular closed meeting of its 41-member Executive Council, during which director general Mr Uzumcu has discussed progress in Syria.

Mr Uzumcu said on Tuesday that a second batch of inspectors would be deployed to Syria, bolstering a joint OPCW-UN team already on the ground.

Some 19 OPCW arms experts and 16 UN logistics and security personnel are in Syria and have started to destroy weapons production facilities, with footage of their work broadcast on Syrian television.

Damascus has won rare international praise for its cooperation with the chemical disarmament mission, deployed since October 1 under the terms of a UN Security Council resolution drawn up after devastating nerve gas attacks in August.

UN chief Ban Ki Moon has warned that the weapons inspectors face unprecedented danger, saying it would take 100 foreign experts to complete "an operation the likes of which, quite simply, has never been tried before."

The mission will have bases in Damascus and Cyprus.

Syria has already made a declaration of its weapons facilities, and the UN resolution set a November 1 deadline for the eradication of production and chemical mixing facilities.