Tripoli: Syria regime says it will need at least a year to dismantle its chemical weapons arsenal, but if Libya`s experience is anything to go by, this is a hopelessly optimistic forecast.
Damascus has provided the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with a full inventory of its chemical arsenal, in order to avert US-led military strikes in line with a US-Russian deal.
The plan calls for Syria`s arsenal to be destroyed by mid-2014 amid hopes that it could pave the way for peace talks to end the 30-month Syrian conflict which has killed more than 110,000 people and forced two million more to flee abroad.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said last week "it needs a year, or maybe a little bit more" and USD 1 billion for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons.
But judging by the Libyan experience, that "little bit more" could stretch to years.
Nine years after Tripoli signed on to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the new authorities are still trying to destroy the remainder of the stockpile they inherited from slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The process began early in 2004 when Gaddafi, keen to shake off Libya`s "pariah state" image, signed the Convention and joined the OPCW.
Libya had 13 tonnes of mustard gas when it signed the treaty, but the former regime claimed at the time to have destroyed the munitions needed to deliver the deadly substance.
In the years following the signing, Gaddafi`s regime destroyed around 54 per cent of its mustard gas stocks and about 40 per cent of the chemicals used to manufacture the substance, besides 3,500 bombs intended to deliver deadly chemicals.
The process, supervised by OPCW experts, was interrupted by the 2011 uprising against Gaddafi in which he was ultimately toppled and slain by Western-backed rebels.
The experts` work resumed in 2012.
"The process of elimination is being conducted step-by-step, with the latest stage of the destruction of chemicals taking place between December, 2012 and May, 2013," said Colonel Ali Chikhi, spokesman for the Libyan army staff.
To date, he said, "Libya has destroyed 95 per cent of its mustard gas stocks and is on course to eliminate the remainder by 2016 at the latest".
The largest stockpile of the gas is inside a warehouse in the city of Al-Raogha, around 700 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli.