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Chemical arms ban refused

Published: 3:32PM Saturday October 21, 2006 Source: Reuters

North Korea, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria have refused to join a treaty banning chemical weapons, thereby posing a danger to 180 nations that have pledged to destroy stockpiles, the head of a monitoring group said on Friday.

Argentine Rogelio Pfirter, director-general of the group that implements the treaty, told a news conference and the UN General Assembly that all countries should be obliged to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into force in April 1997.

"It is very unfair to other countries if a few countries retain for themselves the privilege of producing chemical weapons when all the others are transparent in this field," said Pfirter, head of the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Even one country refusing to join was a "major loophole" in getting rid of such arms, which include the deadly nerve gas VX and mustard gases, he said.

As for North Korea, Pfirter said, Pyongyang has not replied to entreaties to join the convention, despite "allegations of the potential existence of stockpiles."

A Security Council resolution on October 14 on North Korea's nuclear test demanded the nation rid itself of all weapons of mass destruction.

In the Middle East, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria "in one way or another" contended they could not sign the treaty because of a regional conflict, an excuse Pfirter rejected because so many other countries in war zones have signed.

Of those nations that have declared chemical weapons stockpiles, Russia has the most with more than 40,000 metric tons, followed by the United States with 27,000 metric tons. Other declared holders are India, Libya and Albania.

The treaty bans the use of chemical weapons as well as their development, production, stockpiling and transfer. It says that all stockpiles must destroyed by April 2007 but allows an extension and both the United States and Russia are seeking another five years.

Last April, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told congressional defence committee leaders that the United States could destroy only an estimated 66% of its declared chemical weapons stockpile by the 2007 deadline.

Pfirter, whose group provides inspectors, said operations have been completed at two US facilities while six others are still operating.

US officials estimate a cost of more than $US32 billion to destroy the entire stockpile because special plants have to be built to do the job safely.