Libya admits that it stockpiled mustard gas and nerve agents

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The Independent Online

Libya has formally admitted that it stockpiled mustard gas and precursor chemicals to make deadly nerve gases, in a further step designed to hasten the normalisation of relations with the West.

In a report to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in The Hague, Libya declared that it had stored more than 20 tons of mustard gas, as well as precursors for sarin and other nerve gases. It also admitted the existence of one chemical weapons production facility and two storage units.

Rogelio Pfirter, OPCW's director-general, said: "This is good for Libya, the region and the international community." He added that it strengthened prospects for multilateral disarmament, and described it as "a tangible step" towards the ultimate elimination of chemical weapons.

In Washington, Libya's move will be hailed as further vindication of America's tough policy on Iraq which, the White House says, has forced Libya and other states suspected of having weapons of mass destruction to reconsider their position. Tripoli announced in December that it was abandoning all efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and has since allowed US, British and United Nations weapons inspectors to search its sites.

In another sign of warmer ties, the American Assistant Secretary of State, William Burns, is considering a visit to Libya later this month, in what would be the highest-level direct contact between the two countries in more than 30 years. The visit might lead to the return of US oil companies to Libya for the first time in a decade.