January 16, 2014 - 22:35 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The head of the UN body tasked with removing and destroying Syria's chemical arsenal says the process has been slowed down by security concerns, BBC News reports.
Ahmet Uzumcu said the amount of chemicals transported to the Syrian port of Latakia for shipping so far was not that high. But he expressed confidence the arms would be destroyed by the end of June.
Removing the most dangerous chemicals is the first step of a UN-backed deal to eliminate Syria's chemical arsenal.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) set a deadline of March 31 for this first stage, with all Syria's chemical arms stockpile to be destroyed by June 30.
Meanwhile, Italy has confirmed that its southern port of Gioia Tauro will be used as the base for the chemicals to be transferred from cargo ships to a U.S. military vessel for destruction, angering local officials.
Uzumcu, speaking in Rome, said the transport delays were due to technical problems and the obvious difficulties of operating in a warzone. But he said additional measures had been put in place to help smooth the transportation.
The OPCW would "do our best to meet" the end of June deadline, he added.
The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons to Latakia. Denmark and Norway are providing cargo ships and military escorts to take them to Italy, where they will be loaded onto a U.S. Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray.
The materials will be destroyed in international waters by a process known as hydrolysis.
Italy's Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi confirmed on Thursday that Gioia Tauro would handle the ship-to-ship transfer, "following international standards and in absolute secure conditions". He stressed that none of the cargo would come ashore.
But the town's Mayor, Renato Bellofiore, told the BBC he was not consulted over the plan, only hearing of it through the media.
"Democracy has been trampled on," he said. "We are not ready for this as a population. Is there an evacuation plan? A rescue plan? We are extremely worried. An accident may be unlikely, but it is not impossible."
He accused the United Nations of making his town "a dumping ground" for chemical weapons.