Fears over Serbia's poison gas factories

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The Independent Online

Defence Correspondent

Serbia still has factories able to manufacture chemical weapons, including nerve gas - a potentially devastating threat to peace in the region, a television investigation has revealed.

Tonight's World in Action programme on ITV includes film of the nerve- gas plants which can make Sarin, a deadly nerve agent. A visit to an old chemical factory, now deserted, north of Mostar, in Bosnia, proved that the former Yugoslavia made Sarin, while interviews with former workers indicate the existence of factories in Serbia which can still make the agent.

Major David Craig, chemical weapons adviser to the British Force Commander in the Gulf war, Sir Peter de la Billiere, travelled with the television team to the abandoned factory between Muslim and Serb lines north of Mostar. They took samples that were analysed by the Swedish National Defence Establishment, which confirmed that Sarin was made there.

Major Craig told World in Action: "What you have discovered is that Yugoslavia was producing weapons of mass destruction and that Serbia still has the capability to do so."

The programme also interviewed former workers in chemical factories and obtained Yugoslav army documents and manuals which detail Serbia's ability to fight a chemical war.

The Yugoslav chemical weapons programme was linked with Iraq on the development of the M-87 Orkan multiple rocket launcher, which was used by rebel Serbs in Croatia's Krajina region to fire rockets at Zagreb, the Croatian capital.

A former Yugoslav president, Stipe Mesic, a Croat, described how he made a secret trip to the United States to brief the Pentagon on Yugoslavia's co-operation with Saddam Hussein. Although he was head of state, he had to keep his mission secret from the Yugoslav army, and used a private trip to Austria to board a US aircraft for Washington. Mr Mesic says a full dossier of documents on the Yugoslav chemical arsenal was handed over to the Pentagon.