Libya admits making deadly mustard gas

Despite previous denials, declaration says 20 tons of agent were stockpiled


In a formal declaration yesterday, Libya disclosed that it had produced and stored 20 tons of deadly mustard gas, according to an international disarmament body that monitors the ban on chemical weapons.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the group based in The Hague, Netherlands, charged with ridding the world of chemical weapons, said that a Libyan official had turned over to the organization more than a dozen folders containing details of the illicit chemical weapons program.

In an effort to normalize relations with the West, Libyan leader Col. Muammar el Kadafi announced in December that Libya was renouncing chemical, biological and nuclear arms.

Meanwhile, as OPCW officials at The Hague and American officials in Washington began analyzing the Libyan chemical declaration, a State Department charter ship carrying more than 500 metric tons of equipment from Libya's nuclear and other weapons programs was preparing to leave this morning.

The ship, whose name American officials refused to disclose, is carrying nuclear centrifuges and components, equipment from a uranium conversion facility, and Libya's five SCUD-C longer-range missiles, among other equipment and material, administration officials said.

A senior official said that the administration was still discussing the fate of this material but that much of it would undoubtedly be destroyed. In late January, two U.S. aircraft flew to the United States carrying nuclear weapons plans, centrifuge designs and components, and containers of chemicals used to enrich uranium.

"This is an astounding achievement," the senior official said of the ship's impending departure of the weapons equipment. "Libya's [weapons of mass destruction] program will soon be sailing away."

In its declaration to the OPCW, Libya acknowledged that it had made the mustard gas over a decade ago at the Rabta production facility in the Libyan desert southwest of Tripoli, officials said. The statement said Libya had kept the gas and a variety of chemical precursors intended for sarin and other nerve agents at two storage facilities.

Libya also declared that it had tested the gas as a weapon and made thousands of bombs to deliver the lethal agents as part of its secret chemical weapons program. Libya said its chemical program had begun in the 1980s and ended in 1990, officials said.

In an interview yesterday, Rogelio Pfirter, director-general of the OPCW, called the mustard gas stockpile quite sizeable - even though, by comparison, the former Soviet Union and the United States both declared having made thousands of tons of the deadly agent. Pfirter said Libya's supply could have caused havoc to civilians and regional armies had it been used.

He said Libya also told his organization that although the mustard gas had been tested, it had never used in a conflict or put into bombs or other weapons. Libya had been repeatedly accused of having used mustard gas and perhaps other chemical weapons in 1987 in its conflict with neighboring Chad. But Libyan officials had denied that.

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