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Published: Monday December 9, 2013 MYT 9:45:02 PM
Updated: Monday December 9, 2013 MYT 9:45:03 PM

Syrian chemicals arms removal may be delayed - OPCW

OSLO (Reuters) - The removal of chemical weapons from Syria may be delayed slightly due to the difficulties of operating during a civil war, the head of the global chemicals weapon watchdog OPCW said on Monday.

But any hold-up should be small and the mid-2014 deadline to destroy these weapons remains realistic, said Ahmet Uzumcu, whose Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been charged with supervising the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal.

The most dangerous chemical weapons have to be removed by December 31 while weapons in a second category have to be shipped out by February 5.

"In view of the circumstances in this country, it will be quite difficult to meet this timeline," Uzumcu, who is in Oslo to accept the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize on Tuesday, told a news conference. "There are very demanding timelines that we want to fulfil and I'm confident that the deadline of end of June next year (to destroy the weapons) will be met."

The Hague-based OPCW was given the task of overseeing destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stocks following a sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus in August which killed hundreds of people. The deal, in part brokered by Russia, averted U.S. missile strikes.

Uzumcu said difficulties included security, particularly on secondary and access roads to various facilities, and the strict verification process that required extensive cooperation with the administration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Still, he said the first part of the removal could happen in early or mid January while the second part could be a "few days" delayed.

The weapons will be taken out of Syria on a cargo vessel but authorities still have not yet picked the port where their destruction can be carried out.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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