Albania rejects proposal to host destruction of Syria's chemical weapons

Prime minister says plan is 'impossible' for his country as protesters hold overnight vigil

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 4:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 4:37am


Albania yesterday rejected a request from the United States for the tiny impoverished Balkan nation to host the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, a major blow to international efforts to destroy the arsenal by the middle of next year.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Edi Rama said it was "impossible for Albania to take part in this operation".

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been discussing a plan to destroy Syria's estimated 1,000-tonne arsenal, which includes mustard gas and the deadly nerve agent sarin.

Syria says it wants the weapons destroyed outside the country and the OPCW has described that as the "most viable" option. A meeting of the OPCW's executive council in The Hague yesterday morning was adjourned to allow national delegations to work on the wording of the plan.

Hundreds of youths camped overnight outside Rama's office to protest against the plan. "We don't have the infrastructure here to deal with the chemical weapons. We can't deal with our own stuff, let alone Syrian weapons," said 19-year-old architecture student Maria Pesha, echoing the fears of many residents. "We have no duty to obey anyone on this, NATO or the US." The demonstrators cheered when Rama made his announcement yesterday.

Any destruction of Syria's weapons, wherever it happens, will be overseen by experts from the Hague-based OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for its efforts to eradicate poison gas and nerve agents around the world.

The risky disarmament operation in the midst of a raging civil war started more than a month ago with inspections. Then machinery used to mix chemicals and fill empty munitions was smashed, thereby ending the Syrian government's capability to make new weapons.

Albania, a member of Nato, is one of only three nations worldwide that has declared a chemical weapons stockpile to the OPCW and destroyed it. Nations including the US and Russia have also declared stockpiles, but have not yet completed their destruction.

However, Albania was a controversial choice. The nation of 2.8 million people descended into anarchy in 1997 following the collapse of shady investment schemes that cost many Albanians their life savings. Residents also looted thousands of weapons from state arms depots that year.

The Syrian chemical disarmament mission stems from a deadly August 21 attack on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus in which the United Nations determined that sarin was used. Hundreds of people were killed. The US and Western allies accuse Syria's government of being responsible, while Damascus blames the rebels.

The Obama administration threatened to launch punitive missile strikes against Syria, prompting frantic diplomatic efforts to forestall an attack. Those efforts concluded with September's unanimous UN Security Council resolution endorsing the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons.